Raju Shrivastav in conversation with ANUJ KUMAR
“There is no need of wild card entries in my show because the performers are already wild.” This is Raju Shrivastav for you. Always witty, seldom nasty. Back after a hiatus of six months with a new show Raju Haazir Ho on NDTV Imagine, Raju says the break was deliberate.
“I was offered to judge Laughter Challenge and participate in Comedy Circus, but I refused because I didn’t want to be repetitive though some news channels are still earning revenue playing my old performances. I needed time to write new jokes and create new characters.” So he went back to his native Kanpur to find new characters to support his key protagonist Gajodhar bhaiyya. “Meantime, I went to Tirupati and there I created my first South Indian character Anna.”
Raju agrees jokes on television are increasingly obscene. “My fellow stand-up artistes often argue that there is an audience because SMS jokes are even more vulgar. But my point is SMS jokes are personal. Here you are addressing the entire family.”
Once told by the producers that his jokes are fit only for public television and melas, Raju says now the same satellite channels are going head over heels to book him. “They used to say my characters are rural and have an earthy flavour. You tell me which Indian doesn’t have a rural connection. How can you forget the farmer, who is the backbone of your country,” Raju says. He still loves to perform in melas and festivals in small town because there he gets his characters. “It is to my advantage. There I observe the audience closely. I have carved Manohar, the brother of Gajodhar through such observations.”
There is a tradition of hasya kavita in this country but stand-up is a new phenomenon and has yet to get respect. “It is true but we should realise that tamasha and ekal abhinaya (solo performance) are also stand-up performances in one sense. As for respect, it will come from originality. Earlier stand-ups were relying on mimicry. I also started in the same fashion but soon realised that I can’t go far by mimicking the stars. I started writing my own skits and jokes drawing from contemporary issues.”
Raju maintains the artist first longs for respect from the family. “I was dubbed as good for nothing by my family members. Those days a government job was considered the best. A post of clerk would do. As I used to mimic and used to find humour in ordinary things, I was called a nautanki. My face didn’t help my case either. Today everybody remembers me. For every little or big thing they call me. I have become a success story in my village. Youngsters want to follow me.”
He pays gratitude to Amitabh Bachchan for his success. “When I came to Mumbai, I was noticed because I could mimic Bachchan very well. Before me people like Johnny Lever were experts on Dilip Kumar and Om Prakash. I was the first one to copy Bachchan. Mimic artistes copy that personality the best whom they grew up watching. So Bachchan and Shatrughan Sinha came naturally to me. Rest you do technically or with practice.”
Unlike Lever, Raju is avoiding films. Now he has a team of four writers who collaborate with him. “This is a deliberate move. Even when I had little work, I preferred shows instead of small roles in films. But at that time I couldn’t afford to pick and choose. My aim is to develop stand-up comedy as a parallel industry in the country. I want to take it to a stage when people would come and ask why don’t you do films.” The stage is right here!