Vir Das | The comedian from two Indias

His show in Washington has triggered angry responses and police cases

Updated - November 21, 2021 10:41 am IST

Published - November 21, 2021 12:41 am IST

On November 15, Vir Das, a comedian and actor, released a six-minute video in which he spoke of “Two Indias”. In the monologue, delivered to an audience at a sold-out show at the Kennedy Centre in Washington DC, Mr. Das, 42, spoke of many contradictions in India on issues varying from women’s safety to tackling COVID-19 and politics. “I come from an India where we worship women during the day and gang rape them at night,” he said. “I come from an India where we take pride in being vegetarian, and yet run over the farmers who grow our vegetables.”

The video, uploaded on YouTube, went viral and triggered a storm of responses, with both supporters and critics peddling the ‘Two Indias’ memes on social networks. Mr. Das released a statement on Twitter, explaining his stand. “There has been a sizeable reaction to a video I posted on YouTube. The video is a satire about the duality of two very separate Indians that do different things. Like Any Nation has light and dark, good and evil within it. None of this is a secret,” it read. “The video appeals for us to never forget that we are great. To never stop focusing on what makes us great. It ends in a gigantic patriotic round of applause for a country we all love, believe in and are proud of. That there is more to our country than the headline, a deep beauty. That’s the point of the video and the reason for the applause.”

But the clarification did little in calming the storm. A Mumbai-based advocate, who is a legal adviser of Maharashtra’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), filed a complaint with the Mumbai police against Mr. Das for “defaming India and Prime Minister Narendra Modi”. In Delhi, a police complaint was lodged against the comedian by a BJP member for allegedly using derogatory statements against women and India.

Apology sought

Madhya Pradesh’s Home Minister and BJP leader Narottam Mishra said Mr. Das could not perform in the State “until he apologises”. Abhishek Singhvi, a former spokesman for the Congress Party, joined the narrative. “Vilifying the nation as a whole in front of the world is just not done!” he posted on Twitter. Not everybody is angry with Mr. Das, though. Filmmaker Hansal Mehta tweeted in support of him. “I was very moved by Vir Das. I come from an India where it needs courage for a Vir Das to say this, I come from an India where many of us admire this courage yet choose to remain silent.” Comedian Munawar Faruqui, who was jailed earlier this year over a joke, has said, “I come from Two India: 1947 and 2014.”

The Dehradun-born Mr. Das was the first Indian comedian to be on Netflix and has acted in many Bollywood films like Namaste London , Love Aaj Kal and Delhi Belly . He was raised in Nigeria and studied at Lagos. Graduated from the Knox College, Illinois, in Economics and Theatre, Mr. Das started his career on Zoom TV. His YouTube channel, ‘Vir Das Comedy’ is one of the most popular comedy platforms in the country with some 674,000 subscribers. He runs India’s first and foremost Comedy Consultancy called ‘WierdAss Comedy’. He has performed in about 35 plays, over 100 stand-up comedy shows, 18 films, eight TV shows and six comedy specials. He has written for Femina and Tehelka magazines and DNA newspaper. He has his videos on Amazon Prime Video and Netflix.

Offensive jokes

This is not the first time Mr. Das is courting a controversy. In August 2021, he made offensive jokes about the transgender community on his #TenOnTen series on YouTube. After receiving a lot of flak for his comment on social media, Mr. Das apologised and said, “I got the joke wrong.” In July 2020, Mr. Das had uploaded a video on Twitter, saying: “I do not condone offensive jokes. Stop offensive and abusive comedy. It is not easy to take a stand against a community of peers I love, but comedy has become way too offensive.”

Nine months ago, Mr. Das landed himself in trouble for cracking jokes on former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. In 2016, after the film Mastizaade was released, an FIR was filed against him and actor Sunny Leone for promoting condoms inside a temple in a vulgar manner.

Last year, while talking about self-censoring his content, Mr. Das said in an interview: “I have performed for the biggest people in the country and I am a very small fish in their pond. The guy who gets upset is never the politician or the businessman, it is the guy who loves the politician or businessman.” The show in Washington, however, seems to have upset both of them.

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