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Eyebrow-raising laugh riot

Mahabanoo Mody Kotwal's "Straight Talk" left many blushing. "But that is what I set out to do", the artiste tells SUBHA J RAO.

MAHABANOO MODY Kotwal came, spoke and became the topic of conversation. If a section of the audience loved her ribald humour, another could not digest the fact that a "woman" could mouth expletives and X-rated jokes with such finesse.

This was a one-of-its-kind show and those who had been exposed to this genre of comedy, joined the fun as Mahabanoo launched a risqué attack on everything from the Government to political parties to the profusion of models in Mumbai to anything else that captivated her imagination.

In Coimbatore, on the invitation of the local chapter of the Public Relations Society of India, she presented her stand-up comedy "Straight Talk", and she spoke so straight that many were left squirming in their seats.

Admit it, this is a first as far as this city goes. Even if sexual innuendoes in films have been accepted, anything direct is not that palatable.

Risqué humour is a rarity here. And, when the performer is a woman, the audience is split in the middle.

Mahabanoo's reputation preceded her and people were curious to know what the director of "Shirley Valentine" and `The Vagina Monologues" would offer. If people huddled together in groups before the show, discussing the powerhouse performer, after it, most left abruptly. A few, who knew about her work, stood back to discuss the show.

Taking pot shots at everything masculine, she did not let down her steam even when a joke was met with funereal silence. After "Saying a little prayer for the joke that just died," she went on full blast.

Talking to Metro Plus after her show, the performer, who is a veteran theatre artiste, says it does not hurt when her jokes fall flat. "The idea is to make them (men) uncomfortable. The women find solidarity in what I say, because it comes from a woman who is not so young."

And, how did Mahabanoo get into stand-up comedy? "When I was doing Shirley Valentine, which was a laugh-a-minute, someone suggested I take up stand-up comedy. I made a foray into this genre in 2000," she recalls.

And, if people thought comedy was easy, think again.

"In foreign countries, comedy artistes have writers. Here, we have to do it ourselves. So, one has to read a lot to keep up with the changing world and develop the ability to listen. That is when your stories gel," Mahabanoo says.

And, despite her pulling up the Government ever so often in her acts, she says no one from the establishment has come looking for her. "The time has come for us to learn to laugh at ourselves."

Mahabanoo's Poor Box Productions, which was started in 1999, is to shortly produce the stage version of Pinki Virani's "Aruna's Story", which narrates the story of Aruna Shanbhag, a nurse at Mumbai's KEM hospital, who was raped by a cleaner and has been lying immobile in the same hospital for decades now.

Though this multi-faceted artiste has dabbled in films, acting in movies like "Cotton Mary and "Sixth Happiness", she is "not very comfortable in front of the camera."

"Somehow, with theatre, you evolve. There is a difference between the first and 30th performance. If you have any pretensions of being an actor, you have to grow with the role," she says.

Ask her if her shows are elitist in nature and she says: "Yes, they are targeted at the upper crust.

It is necessary to reach the common man, but there are others to do it. I cannot mouth inanities like "motu" or "taklu". I am more comfortable with my dirty jokes."

Some gems...

  • JOKES AND truth are not mutually exclusive. The best jokes are true and the best truths are jokes.
  • IF OVER-priced, under-sized clothes can't make you happy, maybe they are not meant for you.
  • RAMP MODELS, "can't make up their mind where they want to go, they keep walking up and own."
  • WHY DO male models "wear pants so tight you know their religion."
  • IF SWIMMING is so good for the figure, why do whales look like they do?
  • IF THEY sent one man to the moon, why did they not send them all?
  • WE DON'T expect the Government to do something for us, we are happy as long as it does not do anything to us."

What they say

IT WAS very feminist.

A large section of people would not have really enjoyed it.

It was carrying things a little too far for a public programme.

Vanitha Mohan

Executive Director,


SIMPLY WONDERFUL. It got a little too much for this part of society, but it is time we exposed ourselves to globally accepted and appreciated forms of drama.

Mervyn Jussy


Public Relations Society of India,

Coimbatore chapter.

IT WAS candid and frank for a woman. Of course, there was a mixed reaction from the audience because people here are not used to something like this. But, this is what is happening in the world.

Rajini Varadarajan


G V Centre for Performing Arts.

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