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Just a Minute in India

Tuesday 3 April 2012, 15:34

Clarissa Maycock Clarissa Maycock

Editor's note: To celebrate Just A Minute's 45th anniversary, the team travelled to India. Tilusha Ghelani, a producer on Just A Minute, recalls the trip -CM.

As a producer of Just a Minute I went with Nicholas Parsons to India to make a documentary about a game played in student tournaments there that resembles Just a Minute. While we were there, we also recorded two regular episodes of Just a Minute with regulars Paul Merton and Marcus Brigstocke and Indian comedy stars Cyrus Broacha and Anuvab pal.

An Indian JAM appears to be based on Radio 4's long running and much loved comedy show - but with quite a few differences.

First the similarities:

  1. A JAM involves speaking for a minute. Unless they are playing a HAM - which is half a minute. The elimination rounds are often HAMs as it takes so long to get through a subject.
  2. There is a host. But he is called a moderator or a 'JAM Master'. We asked some students if there had ever been a JAM mistress. But they got distracted by the fact that the term 'JAM mistress' sounds somehow filthy and so we all fell about laughing. There are female players but it does seem to be male dominated.
  3. The purpose is to have fun. A 'JAM' is one of many literary games students take part in, but a JAM seems to be the most informal and a place where you can say anything. So there's a lot of suggestive, innuendo laced humour.

The key differences are:

  1. The number of players tend to be 6 or 8 but can be as many as 12
  2. The subjects tend to be fully formed idioms or jokes, rather than a topic. That's because they aren't really important. They're there to get a laugh and jog some kind of speech.
  3. The rules. A hesitation is called a speech defect and repetition called either 'repetition' or 'standard format', but we never heard anyone challenged for deviation and there were a lot of other extra rules. Most of them are linked to good grammar so speakers get interrupted a lot. Some we didn't include in the documentary such as 'dramatisation' i.e. changing the pitch of your voice suddenly or being dramatic. I am not sure how far Gyles Brandreth would get in an Indian JAM.
  4. The speed. Oh the speed! No one got more than a few seconds of speech out before being interrupted. Because an Indian JAM isn't really about the speaking. It is about the competitive spotting of small errors, getting one over on your fellow contestants and using it as an opportunity for humour. Because it is not an 'entertainment' show for the radio, but a student competition where you can win serious prize money, so of course contestants are quick to buzz in. At the Unmaad tournament, the prize money was the equivalent of £300 pounds and a watch worth even more.

There was some interesting stuff I couldn't include in the documentary. We couldn't include the scoring system. Mostly because it varied from JAM to JAM and partly because I am not 100% sure I fully grasped it. We couldn't include the students at St. Xavier's, who played a very witty JAM. The Mumbai traffic had made us very late and the hastily set up record plus the fact that students had shared mics meant record wasn't as clear a quality as the others. We couldn't include a couple of the naughtier subjects - one began "women are like hurricanes..." I'll let you make up your own ending.

What we came away with is that Indian JAM is not really the same game. Though it is competitive, verbose, quick-witted and all about the humour. A lot like the Indian students we met who gave us their time and hospitality for this documentary.

Tilusha Ghelani is a producer on Just A Minute

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Find out about this year's panel and theme