From Gajodhar Bhaiya to funny Indian weddings, how Raju Srivastava became a household name

Shaurya Thapa
Shaurya ThapaSep 21, 2022 | 12:45

From Gajodhar Bhaiya to funny Indian weddings, how Raju Srivastava became a household name

Raju Srivastava emerged as the runner-up in Great Indian Laughter Challenge's first season, establishing himself as one of the country's premier standup comedians (photo-DailyO)

After spending 41 days at the AIIMS in Delhi, stand-up comedian and actor Raju Srivastava has died at the age of 58. He leaves behind a legacy that traces all the way back to the early stages of Indian performance comedy. 

Before gigs at Mumbai’s Habitat Club and comedy specials on Amazon Prime, Indian comedy (particularly Hindi-language comedy) was accessible through the Great Indian Laughter Challenge. Kanpur native, Raju Srivastava was one of the posterboys of the show, serving as a runner-up and establishing himself as one of India’s premier stand-up comics. 

Much like his other peers at Great Indian Laughter Challenge (that aired on channels across the STAR Network), Srivastava could be differentiated from today’s comics with his relatively family-friendly humour. 

Observational humor was Srivastava’s forte, as he satirised several instances of everyday life in suburban and rural Uttar Pradesh. From mimicking chaotic wedding guests to the description of his society’s night watchmen, he didn’t spare anyone in his vicinity. But Srivastava’s comedy was never condescending with the humourist always being humble about his origins. 

In Great India Laughter Challenge and the other competitive comedy shows that he appeared in, Srivastava has been vocal about how he struggled as a autorickshaw driver in Mumbai. While Sunil Pal won the debut season, Raju Srivastava emerged as the runner-up, soon becoming a household name in North India. Both Pal and Srivastava belong to an endangered breed in Indian comedy, representing the yesteryears of early 2000s comedy. 

Srivastava and his peers’ comedy didn’t touch upon engineering college experiences or any socio-political satire. Some of his best pieces included a comparative analysis of Diwali bombs, an interaction between Shah Rukh Khan and a vegetable seller, and of course any skit that involved his character Gajodhar Bhaiya. 

A character who speaks in a Bhojpuri accent and walks around with his hands relaxed on the back of his head, Gajodhar used to give his two cents on whatever’s trending. Sometimes, even as the simplistic Gajodhar, Srivastava used to drop some truth bombs. For instance, while describing Gajodhar’s experience on watching Slumdog Millionaire (that had a successful Oscar streak that year), Srivastava’s Gajodhar says, 

“This movie [Slumdog] showed a lot of dirt, toilets, and poverty of India. So, that’s when I realised when this movie will get awards for sure.”

Similarly, Srivastava mocked sensational media coverage while describing the aftermath of a bomb blast. He once imagined how the media would hog a blast survivor with their mics, asking him “Did the bomb blast suddenly?”. Srivastava then went on to deliver a sarcastic response that went something like “No, the bomb just popped up like that and asked me ‘should I blast?’. So, I told him, ‘If you have come this far, then go ahead, blast!’”’. 

Over the years, Srivastava’s popularity started declining. Even though he continued MCing at award shows and made appearances in The Kapil Sharma Show, the comedian couldn’t catch up in the post-Vir Das era with the rising standups of today finding their big break on YouTube. The Great India Laughter Challenge has now become a relic of the past, a wholesomely humorous past nevertheless. 

Looking back at one such clip from Srivastava’s time at Great Indian Laughter Challenge, it is only ironic that judge Shekhar Suman praised him as a standout performer for a black humour-laden piece on celebrity deaths. Mimicking Amitabh Bachchan, Aamir Khan and others, he attempted to reveal the insensitivity of Bollywood audiences. Srivastava asked his audiences to visualise that even if these celebs carried a corpse during a funeral, their fans would crowd around and pester them to deliver a dialogue or two. 

“It is the biggest tragedy that whenever an actor or a celebrity dies or their close one dies, even then they are asked to say a dialogue or talk about something personal. You really don’t know whether to laugh or cry at such things. But I think what he has said is so true and hast off to you for saying it so well.” Suman said in praise of Srivastava. 

And today, while the man himself succumbed to a heart attack, the tragedy is overshadowed by his comedic legacy.

Last updated: September 21, 2022 | 12:45
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