Twenty years ago, the world watched its first episode of Friends, and given the rerun cycle in India, I’m sure my grandkids will end up watching it on their deathbeds, getting nostalgic about a world without nuclear winter. Friends is said to be responsible for the rise of everything from a certain haircut to coffee sales to awkward guys using sarcasm as a defence mechanism because clearly, that’s all we do all the time for no reason.
Friends hit Indian shores when I was about fifteen and I could tell it was something big because it was the only thing that made us stop our cricket game and rush home to huddle in front of the TV. (NOTE TO YOUNGER READERS: A TV is sort of like a physical Youtube, except someone else is in charge of the playlist and you don’t get to leave nasty comments about people’s mothers.)
Back then, we had no real idea about the stuff they were talking about – being on a break means nothing when the only girlfriend you’ve ever had is a Kate Winslet poster – but we lapped it up because it was our first proper pop-culture look at adults in America. It was like Archie featuring yuppies, it was three-big-laughs-a-minute and honestly, if someone from my generation tells me they didn’t like it, my brain automatically classifies them as horrible people, like serial killers or MBAs.
In fact, I’m sure that even the most despicable, blood-thirsty bastards on the planet are fans of the Central Perk gang. This must’ve happened at ISIS camps at some point:
Terrorist 1: … And then, Rashid here was like, “Boss, I forget to carry detonator.”
Terrorist 2: Hahaha, you pulled a Monica!
Terrorist 3: (spots a girl in black) How youuu doin’?
*awkward looks all around*
Terrorist 1: Dude, that’s a curtain.
Friends helped an entire generation of people discover themselves, which is just another way of saying that everyone thought they were Chandler Bing. I was convinced I was Chandler because of my tendency to make bad jokes while gradually putting on weight, which, if you think about it, is a pretty generic brief. Nobody ever thought that they were Ross, because that’s the kind of realisation that would drive a man to three divorces. As for Joey, I didn’t even think such people existed, but then I started working in the entertainment industry and long story short, you can shoot a Joey spinoff in any gym between Bandra and Andheri.
But the biggest validation for Bright, Kaufmann and Crane has to be the fact that we ripped off their show to create something called – the subtlety will blow your mind – Hello Friends. It featured Nikhil Chinappa, Maria Goretti, Cyrus Broacha and Mandira Bedi, because I guess VJ Shehnaz was busy digging her way out of the cardboard and glitter avalanche that was MTV Most Wanted.
Hello Friends was pretty much like the original, if you removed all the funny bits. One difference was that desi Ross did not have a lesbian wife – he was just a regular divorcee. This was because lesbians did not exist in India in 1999. We only imported them later when we realised that we had way too many plaid shirts and not enough people to wear them.
Friends faced the same criticism a lot of sitcoms face – “It’s so unreal”, “How can they afford that apartment?”, “Can I get the number of Phoebe’s dealer?” – but nobody really cared because the other stuff made up for it. Sure, the theme song sounds less saccharine and more realistic now – I’ll Be There For Youuuu (Until I Get Married Or Move Cities And We Lose Touch Because That Kinda Thing Happens Watchu Gonna Do About It).
But the rest of it feels real enough, especially once you’ve started living on your own: Having people whose fridges you can raid, no questions asked, hearing them out after their sixteenth break-up with the same person and then getting drunk because that’s as good a reason as any, having people come over with soup when you’re sick and being as exclusionist about your group as those six were, and believing that a Chandler-Monica romance is possible because she’s not obese anymore.
I recently came across a photo of the grey and saggy Matthew Perry and Matt LeBlanc hugging at an award function, and all I could think was, “Goddamn dust allergy, making me sniffle.” So I know that if a Friends reunion ever happens, I’d be the first to drop everything and watch, all the while thinking, “Could I BE more senti?”
(Note: This is my HT column dated 21st Sep, 2014.)