‘Wagle ki Duniya’ and the Great Indian Middle Class

Location

‘Wagle ki Duniya’ and the Great Indian Middle Class

The new show is set in a new age Mumbai suburban society

‘Wagle ki Duniya’ and the Great Indian Middle Class

New Delhi: The re-launch of ‘Wagle Ki Duniya Nayi Peedhi Naye Kisse’ after three decades that the original sitcom went on air on Doordarshan triggers a wide range of emotions. The dominating emotion is that of nostalgia and the kind of passions that the original one triggered in the mind of every Indian, who lived during the period during the time when the sitcom ran on DD between the years from 1988 to 1990.

One overarching feeling that I witnessed as a forty year old when I saw my children watching the show was that how even after three decades the show based on middle class values was so much relatable for Indians. The new show is set in a new age Mumbai suburban society. However, that was not the case with the old one.

The genesis of the old Wagle ki Dunia was in the concept of bringing legendary illustrator and cartoonist RK Laxman’s common man to life as a real life character. Aanjjan Srivastav as the senior Wagle stood for all that RK Laxman’s common man was epitomised and identified for. The middle class angst on issues like inflation, joblessness and the excessive interference of the government in your life found ample mention in the old episodes of Wagle ki Dunia. Every episode was a mirror tribute to the trials and tribulations of the middle class of yore. The same middle class, who admitted their children to state board schools, owned humble Electronic Corporation of India (ECI) TVs and had to stand in queue with tokens at government milk centres.

In a certain episode Shah Rukh Khan, then a new budding TV star also featured prominently. He was seen in an altercation with Aanjjan Srivastav in a police station following a car accident. Possessing, maintaining and driving a car even in a late eighties meant laterally moving up the social ladder. This theme features prominently in the episode where Mr. Wagle tries to aggressively win an argument against Shah Rukh about his ability to drive a car better than him.

Another couple of episodes are etched permanently in my memory. There is one episode where Mr. Wagle as a mid-level employee is feeling extremely competitive with his colleague who sits next to him in his office cubicle. He is a new person to join the office. However, he is the management’s favourite and soon triumphs Mr. Wagle as the go to person for everything in the office. Wagle is so deeply hurt that he resigns in frustration. What follows the resignation is hilarious. He has to surrender everything that belongs to the office. This includes the Safari suite (a choice piece of clothing for the middle class in those days) that is on his person. Wagle is seen walking in his stripped shorts and half sleeves banian with his suitcase from his office. In another episode, Wagle’s office gifts him and his wife a readymade cut piece for a shirt and his wife’s saree as a Diwali gift. When he visits his friend for an office get together he sees everyone from the office wearing clothes made out of the same design. Clearly the office in a bit to cut costs has bought clothes of the same make and design and gifted to the whole office. Every episode used to end with illustrations that RK Laxman designed exclusively for the serial. The uncomplicated life of middle class Indians was what the original Wagle ki Duniya was made up of.

Wagle ki Duniya was made when our country was at the cusp of change. It was a time when less meant more. It was a time when simple and subtle humour cracked our funny bone. It reflected the transition that India’s middle class was undergoing in the late eighties. On one hand were middle class values of frugality and simplicity that a whole generation inherited from the seventies. On the other hand a whole new aspirational India was knocking on the door. The serial was telecasted around the same time Sachin Tendulkar entered the cricket arena. Wagle had worries, challenges and yet a struggler’s streak to make things happen and keep his family happy. He played on the front foot just like Tendulkar. The serial captures that generation which propelled India into the ‘Bindaas’ nineties of liberalisation and privatisation.

The new Wagle Ki Duniya is almost like a time travel taking us ahead by three decades. The dreamy, argumentative, family oriented Wagle again played in the new series has aged and become more accommodative of his extended family. Furthermore, the family has moved from their modest abode in Dadar to a plush society in suburban Mumbai.

His grandchildren are zoomers with their new set of thinking and quick solutions to daily household problems. His son and junior Wagle played beautifully by Hindi and Marathi actor Sumeet Raghavan retains his father’s middle class values however also has a 21st century aggression and go-getter attitude to seek solution to his issues in the society as well as office work. The next generation of the Wagle family has metamorphosed just like the Indian middle class seeking better education and upward mobility in life. Even the new age problems like online financial scams and nosy society secretaries are featuring in the new series as compared to the more basic middle class problems that the previous one portrayed to us.

However, my personal take on the new serial is that it is way too glossy and formulaic as compared to the former. Also junior Wagle still falls back on his father’s advice when life wrecks him to no end. I am not sure whether the makers have consciously made the junior Wagle more vulnerable in a bid to make him more relatable. The original protagonist was always fraught with his set of problems however he stuck to his simple ways and his never say die grit to overcome them. The new middle class hero seems wanting in the sitcom on that front.

Am I overthinking or is this also a reflection of the new India’s middle class - more aspirational however broken from inside?