Comedy is said to be one of the most difficult genres of acting to master. India is lucky to have been blessed with many wonderful comic talents who are deeply loved and fondly remembered even today. These include actors such as Mehmood Ali, Rajpal Yadav, Johnny Lever, Shakti Kapoor and Razzak Khan, among many others.
Comic relief characters have always been an essential part of movies. While comedy in the majority of the '80s and '90s in Bollywood comprised of slapstick humour or crude jokes, comic actors remained a regular feature of most movies of the time and despite being provided less than stellar writing material, managed to make themselves and their goofy characters enjoyable, in turn helping to elevate movies that without their presence may be deemed unwatchable today. They weren't just limited to comedies, but appeared in all genres of movies, from family dramas, romance and thrillers to even horror. They appeared in gags that were completely unrelated to the plot of the movie, cracking jokes with the sole purpose of being funny, with no sort of arc or even a real character. Think Johnny Lever (or Rajpal Yadav after him) in countless movies from the '90s and early 2000s.
There has however been a noticeable decline in this trend in recent years. Unlike the previous decades, which produced many comic talents, no real comic actor of prominence has appeared in movies in the past decade. This can be attributed to several factors. One could be the advent of YouTube and other similar platforms, which has led to more and more comics using them to showcase their talent and finding a quicker way to success than opting to struggle for bit roles in movies that don't pay much. But perhaps the bigger factor has been the change in the way movies are written now. Since the mid to late-2000s, more and more writers began to write character-driven stories instead of plot-driven ones. In these stories, the humour came from the way the characters were written rather than having actors pop up just to tell a few jokes. Movies like Dil Chahta Hai brought back the Hrishikesh Mukherjee era of movies, where characters drove the humour in the story, and this trend has been gaining ground ever since, with jokes-only characters appearing solely in the odd David Dhawan comedy.
Character-driven humour meant the space for characters put in just for cracking jokes shrank and is now a rarity reserved for so-called comedies like Coolie No. 1. While one would have expected the advent of more character-driven humour to lead to meatier roles for comic actors than before, it has instead led to them getting sidelined. While some actors like Vijay Raaz, Paresh Rawal and Anupam Kher have managed to break out of the comic-relief stereotype and done great work in other genres, many others have not had the same chance. Which is a shame because when given a chance to showcase his dramatic chops in movies like Main, Meri Patni Aur Woh, Main Madhuri Dixit Banna Chahti Hoon or even Darna Mana Hai, Rajpal Yadav proved himself to be a capable dramatic actor. There are many like him, stuck to repeating the same type of roles in increasingly unfunny movies. One hopes that as movies change, these actors get more chances to showcase their range instead of appearing in thankless roles in movies like Coolie No. 1 or Total Dhamaal.