Stand-up comedian Anuvab Pal, all set to speak at The Hindu Lit for Life festival in New Delhi, says he likes to call himself a writer of drama
Try to Google Anuvab Pal and you only end up learning about his work; nothing about the man, not even a Wikipedia page.
Anuvab Pal on-stage and off it is almost two different people. He is a testament to the fact that people in the funny business aren’t necessarily cracking jokes or throwing out witty one-liners during regular conversations.
“I am not an individual who likes to be at the forefront of my work. What interests me more is how to get into a world I picture in my head and bring it alive. In fact, as an individual you might find me extremely boring,” confesses Anuvab, who likes to call himself a “writer of drama”. It is this persona of a writer that has lent itself to his versatility as a playwright, screenwriter, author, stand-up comic, columnist, formerly a business journalist and more recently, an actor.
His journey into the limelight began with a brief period of unemployment when he had just quit his job with Reuters in the U.S., which coincided with a time when Indian fiction was gaining popularity there — Jhumpa Lahiri had successfully published her first novel, Mira Nair’s movies were doing well and Salman Rushdie was a star. This conducive literary environment coupled with a persistent urge to write and an unrestricted access to time and imagination resulted in his first piece of fiction — Chaos Theory — a play about two Indian professors in the U.S. that is about “30 Years of Shakespeare, verbal duels, jokes, alcohol. And the imperfect physics of love.” It has been adapted into 250 successful stage productions and is the first Indian play to be The Finalist at The BBC World Playwriting Competition 2007.
Its success led to it being adapted into a book (incidentally his fourth after “The President Is Coming”, which was adapted into a movie); “1 888 Dial India” and a non-fiction book on “Disco Dancer”. Anuvab also co-wrote the satirical drama/ comedy “Loins of Punjab Presents” with director Manish Acharya.
Just like all his other roles were a result of one leading to the other, so was his current one as a popular stand-up comic. While on an assignment to cover the then-newly launched Comedy Story in Mumbai for Men’s World magazine in 2010, he was asked by the owner to perform a five-minute stand-up routine in exchange for a story. Before he knew it, he had performed at about 60-70 shows by the end of the following year!
“In 2011, the (stand-up) scene exploded. It was as if all of India suddenly wanted to see more and more of stand-ups. It was sort of taking over the theatre audience. Also, comedy is easier to produce,” explains Anuvab. It was then he came up with his hour-long “The Nation Wants to Know” routine, popularly publicised with an earnestly-intimidating Anuvab demanding to know the answers in the posters. It may not be a coincidence after all that his name is similar-sounding to the news anchor who originally started demanding to know on prime time television. Describing his style of stand-up, Anuvab says it is sketch comedy — he describes a situation and enacts a person or persons in it and reaction to it. For instance, he says, “Take a situation where I talk about the decline of the English language in India. Nobody speaks the way it was originally meant to be spoken. If they do they end up sounding like the love child of Karan Thapar and Shashi Tharoor. Now to explain it, I will need to talk like that person and also be the person who reacts to it. It is merely an extension of theatre.”
Doesn’t he dread being tagged a funny guy? “What people say doesn’t really affect me because when I create something I always think from the perspective of the character – what he/she would think, say and do. And me as an individual disappears. I am uncomfortable being an individual in public space. I enjoy my work being known; in fact, I am happy when people know my work and not who is behind it. It is perhaps why I do not have a Wikipedia page…”
The Hindu Lit for 2014 will take place at the Siri Fort Auditorium 2 in Delhi on February 8, 2014.
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