Amrutham is possibly the only Telugu show to garner a loyal viewership warranting a place in popular culture. Appajji’s memes still come up in discussions pertaining to Pesarattu-Upma. ‘Sir vaadu’ immediately takes you back to the show and the unofficial owner of the address Sarvam. When it first aired in 2001, I was a mere 12-year-old, so I cannot pretend to remember every hilarious moment, but I remember it being different. If the fact that this is the first, and probably last, serial where women are allowed to wear nighties while sleeping—other serials need them to dress as if they have to attend a wedding—isn’t enough, I remember my uncle asking my mom, ‘Did you watch last week’s episode?’ The Show ran for seven years, staying no.1 in ratings for the whole period. Gunnam Gangaraju, the creator and primary writer of this delightful sitcom is known for his nuanced storytelling that does not cross any untoward lines. Little Soldiers (1996), the film he directed, has the same dry sense of humour that’s both driven by its characters and circumstances.
But Amrutham isn’t a dark comedy. It is a show that prides itself for being outlandishly juvenile. A character (Anji, obviously) adopts an earthworm—it’s the cheapest one available—in order to lift a curse on his family. There’s something really weird yet comforting about a man who believes that he is cursed, but not enough to spend more than 100 rupees to get rid of it. This is the show’s USP: a point of view that is observant and sharp, yet domestic enough to remind us of ourselves and the people around us. The situations and dialogues don’t feel premeditated—it happens organically, one intentionally idiotic plot-point after another, creating a fun 21 minutes, every week. You will see a character saying or doing something silly, and you will think, ‘of course’ as if it’s someone you know. That is one of the reasons the show got better with time.
The minute Anji brings a cow to Amrutham’s Gruhapravesam in the first episode, insisting that its poop will bring good fortune, we know we are watching something worthwhile—a commentary on the mundane aspects of life that have never interested the drama-prone TV writers. But the fun kicks in when we realise that the cow is suffering from constipation. This isn’t an alien situation, because I’ve been part of many housewarming ceremonies where the warmth mainly comes from cow urine. I’d like to think that Amrutham successfully made many aspiring writers look at our weird, traditional-contemporary mess of a Telugu existence to spot stories of conflict and irony, finding humour in the mundane.
Title Track and Design
Let’s begin right from the beginning. Every episode begins with the song that is as popular as the show itself. Understandably so, considering how it has more creativity and insight than most mega soaps. Composed and sang by Kalyani Malik, the tune is accompanied by the most quirky credit design ever—not exaggerating.
The ‘Samudhra Madhanam’ that happens with an electric churner inside a spoon full of water to produce Amrutham, the show, is an objectively imaginative way of representing any creative endeavour. It also successfully alludes to the show’s theme: an average middle-class individual’s everyday troubles seem just as epic but are as small and silly.
The song lasts for two minutes and with words written by Sirivennela Seetharama Sastry, it is a piece of art in its own right. It is all about making fun of the average middle-class man, but in a way that is uplifting—sometimes self-deprecation can be soothing.
“Gaalaina raadhayya needasale iruku addhillu” [Even air doesn’t flow freely in your tiny rented house].
“Kaalaina peduthunda nee intlo penu thuphanasalu” //[Would a storm ever dare to put its foot in such house?]
The idea is to look at one’s limitations and find strength in them. Yes, we find problems at every other corner, but it probably means that the solutions are within reach as well.
Naming episodes is a western concept, but so are sitcoms. The show’s writers have great fun naming episodes; ‘Pappu Chesina Appu Card’—a doomed stint with credit card, ‘Boatnu Munchina Anchor’—Amrutham ruining a TV show by starring in it, ‘Kshoura Sagara Madanam’—Amrutham becomes a barber, are a few of them.
For any series to work, the audience have to be invested in the characters. It has to feel important for the viewer to know what is happening with the people that populate the show. With Amrutham, a show-next-door, that has never been a challenge.
Amrutham, the titular character, is a skeptic whose sentences are full of ifs and buts. He joins his friend and starts a small restaurant after loosing his job. An atheist who questions everything, but subdued enough to eventually give in to the whims of the people around him. He is played by three actors during the show’s run—Shivaji Raja, Naresh, and Harshavardhan—without causing so much as a blip to the proceedings. That’s how rooted and well-written the characters and their arcs are; they are hardly ever about the actors.
Anjaneyulu (Gundu Hanumantha Rao), Amrutham’s friend, business partner, ideas man, and neighbour, is the character that makes the show what it is. He often lends his spunk and soul by having opinions only he can have. He is a proud homemaker who cooks for his working wife and does everything a woman is supposed to do. I know that role reversal isn’t any better than sexism, but for a show that’s two decades old, it was pretty progressive.
Sarvam (Vasu), as the name suggests, is everything when the hotel is concerned. He is the server, the cleaner, the delivery boy, and the man who gives us company while laughing at the duo’s failing plans. He is a migrant from Tamil Nadu and even though some of the jokes get rather stereotypical, it’s all harmless.
Appaji (Sivannarayana), the house owner is a petty miser. When it comes to grabbing money unfairly from his tenants, he stops at nothing. Wearing an ancestral belt—which is said to turn anyone cruel—and colourful shirts, this man is the show’s antagonist.
Sanjeevani, a seventh-failed, outspoken women, who is played by many actors throughout her span. Jhansi’s portrayal of her still stays a favourite. She gets the character’s gullible yet smart nature right.
Santha (Ragini), Anji’s working wife, is a character that comes and goes in accordance with the show’s convenience—in fact, that’s true of all female characters, my only grouse with the show. She only exists to patiently support her husband’s well-meaning schemes.
Padhu, Amrutham’s sister-in-law, is a student who lives with her sister while finishing her graduation. A woman with her own mind who reluctantly participates in the gang’s shenanigans.
Considering how it’s 313 episodes long, this list is highly personal and a reflection of what makes Amrutham the only Telugu TV show I’m willing to admit to have loved.
Muggu Gumma (Episode 9): Anji entering a muggula poti (Rangoli competition) dressed like a woman. A man being good at traditionally feminine activities. We have laughed at the irony when Ron gets awarded a Women’s empowerment award in Parks and Rec, but Amrutham did it much earlier.
Aam Set (Episode 32): A rather scathing yet funny satire on our state’s obsession with EAMCET and what it means for the students and parents who go through it. The concept of retaining information without learning from it—called batti in Telugu— becomes ‘kukku-kakku’ where students literally have to eat the pages of their text books and vomit them while sitting for the exam.
Amma! Anakondamma (Episode 52): About superstitions and how there is a business sector that traps people with it to make big bucks.
12-va Pette (Episode 88): A horror special where Anji is stuck in a train that’s filled with invisible ghosts.
Raktha Bandham (Episode 144-146): A hilarious mockery of TV culture and how most serials are filled with unwarranted violence and kids acting inappropriately. Gems like an assistant clapping the board and saying over-action as opposed to action is from this episode.
Phone Kottu- Sodhi Pettu (Episode 203-204): Amrutham becomes an anchor for a music channel and proves to be good at his job.
Ennikala Pariksha (Episode 277-279): Amrutham decides to contest of the MLC seat in his constituency and so does Appaji and a bunch of graduates.
April Fool (Episode 280): Amrutham and Appaji, the perpetual fools, decide to take part in an April Fool’s competition for money.
Brathuke Oka Serial (Episode 293-295): Another episode with Rubber Balaji where he tries to create a comedy serial based on Amrutham and Anji. An entertaining bunch of episodes that try to bring some insight into the origin of the show.
Bamma Kalapam (Episode 307): Appaji brings his ailing aunt from village just so he can steal her inheritance.
The satire—topics ranging from daily soaps to competitive exams to politics, nothing is spared— may miss the target at times, but the humour rarely ever does. Maybe this is why Amrutham still feels like home, despite some of its outdated jokes and gaffes. Something you can revisit, one episode at a time, when you are feeling homesick or when you just want to remember a time with landlines—prank calling a crush will never feel as safe again, a time as uncomplicated as Amrutham-Anji’s friendship.