No one - from South Indian heroes to Kolkata Knight Riders in golden pants - was spared in stand-up comedy ‘Walking on Broken Das'
Indians can't take a joke. Or, at least that's the common assumption. Thoughtless comments burn buses. Mischievous remarks earn PILs. Sex is necessarily expressed in corny metaphors. (After all, you can't really arrest two kissing sunflowers.)
That's why cocky comedians such as Vir Das are good for us. A healthy disrespect for boundaries is exactly what the country needs to unearth its wicked sense of humour. On Sunday night, Das had the packed Music Academy roaring with appreciative (and sometimes shocked) laughter.
Global cities such as London, New York and Sydney have had a tradition of this style of stand-up comedy, designed for and catering to urbane urban audiences. India's just getting into the act. We now follow a range of comedy cult figures ranging from Jerry Seinfeld (courtesy cable TV) to Russell Peters on You Tube. With humour getting as globalised as technology, a teenager online from Bhatinda laughs at the same jokes as the guy in a Boston bar.
The myth that Indians are conservative is finally being shredded. It couldn't be a better atmosphere for the genre of comedy Vir Das has developed for his shows. In a nod to desi-style entertainment, his format makes room for music, costume changes, and a lot of stirring sound and light. Unlike conventional Western stand-up comedy, usually designed for intimate spaces, Das revels in the drama of an expansive stage, bounding about and filling it up with a combination of barely-contained energy, flamboyant lights and functional props.
Although the evening began rather low-key, with the more earnest than funny Sorabh Pant, and a persistently annoying slide show, it gradually gained momentum. Das' act, which has parallels to the popular 1998 BBC sketch ‘Goodness Gracious Me', intelligently balances affectionate Indian comedy (Goodbye Peter Sellers, and good riddance) with digs at popular culture.
He opened playing pretentious Maestro Ravi Darsan (heavily inspired by ‘Goodness Gracious Me's quirky ‘Guru Maharishi Yogi'), interspersing his piano recital with weak jokes. Sample? The first glass of lassi came about when a Sardar played bhangra to his favourite cow.
Mocking at its best
Das is really best when he's not trying too hard. Dapper in a waistcoat, vigilantly-styled hair and sparkling diamond ear stud, his addictively obnoxious onstage avatar exudes an equal amount of attitude and confidence.
His routine, which began with startlingly authentic impersonations of everyone from a charismatic Obama to an energetically pelvic-thrusting South Indian hero, soon had the crowd following him like eager puppies. Well, except when they slid down in their seats to avoid being picked on, something he did every 15 minutes or so, by trawling the audience for terrified prey.
Das calls himself an ‘angry comedian'. He is, however more a sarcastic commentator mocking everything from IPL cricket (“What is with the Kolkata Knight Riders' golden pants? It's like they're half cricketers and half Queenie Dhody”) to Facebook (“Let's be honest. You log on every morning to see who got ugly, who got fat and who got dumped.”)
Relationships, women, friendship: Das's strength is his ability to cut through the niceties and blandly voice what most people are thinking. His band, Alien Chutney, (“the thing about our rock band, unlike other rock bands, we're not very good”) helps, with their almost-endearingly silly lyrics, encouraging the audience to join in: “If I was Himesh Reshammiya, I could put the microphone up in the air / and give the audience a view of my nasal hair.”
It's what you think!
As it turns out, crossing the line can be inexplicably satisfying. Especially when you have an appropriately obnoxious commentator such as Das to mouth your opinions. “Mumbai Indians. What a stupid name! If you're from Mumbai, you're Indians, you idiots!”
I didn't say it. Vir Das did.
(‘Walking on Broken Das', written and directed by Vir Das, was presented by Ashwin Gidwani)