Year of the Woman

Mallika Dua is making waves as the girl in the boy’s club of Indian comedy

‘When you take a stand, there are things you lose out on.’  

"So you have malaria?” “Huh? What malaria?” “Umm, you said you had malaria?” “No, dude, I said there’s poor signal in my area.” With this, Mallika Dua cracks up, and clarifies that I had, indeed, misheard her.

To start off with this is not to inform the reader of my poor hearing, but that Mallika is as sporting as can be. At no point through the interview, where I thrice misheard her, did she seem annoyed or impatient. Instead, I was confronted by an honest, frank, and genuinely funny person, who’s taken the comedy scene in the country quite by storm. What’s that about comedians not being funny off stage?

Different rules

If you aren’t acquainted with Mallika’s work, then head over to YouTube or Instagram right away. Her characters are as distinctive as they are distinct. She hit the limelight with the sketch ‘Shit People Say: Sarojini Nagar Edition’, and since then, it’s been an uphill journey. Well, mostly. 2017, she says was a year of mixed experiences.

“It started out well. But then, I was involved with a few projects that weren’t quite right for me,” she remarks, possibly alluding to the controversy that erupted after Akshay Kumar’s derogatory remarks on the TV show, The Great Indian Laughter Challenge, where she was a co-judge. “The medium wanted us to change to suit its needs, and that defeats the purpose.”

It made her realise that while she may have the freedom to speak out and voice her displeasure or opinion, the world need not necessarily respect that freedom. “The rules are in fact different for boys and girls,” she says, the disappointment filtering through her voice.

It wasn’t particularly difficult for Mallika to enter the comedy industry. What was much harder, she says, was to find her way around once there. “The people who run artist-management agencies are responsible for it being a boys’ club. There are a few of these agencies and each is trying to further its ambitions using the artists.” But Mallika hasn’t taken this lying down, and has made herself heard multiple times, and then faced the brunt of it.

“When you take a stand, there are things you lose out on, obviously. When girls speak out, especially in the comedy industry, people are quick to respond with things like, ‘Why yaar, chill out, no!’”

The year saw the emergence of several now-iconic characters in Mallika’s repertoire: Tinder aunty, Shagun di, Make-up didi. Each of them is loud, brash, outspoken, and dramatic, their lines laced with innuendo, and they speak a peculiar brand of Hinglish (‘means’ is minz, cute is kyote, sexual is sack-shal and so on). “It’s just the people I’ve come across growing up in Delhi. I’m generally attracted to weird characters.”

A theatre major from Franklin & Marshall College in the U.S., she spent a lot of time acting in plays, especially comedy plays.

“This was in many forms and places. Sometimes on stage, sometimes on the web, and so on. The time when people woke up to comedians online, and the time when I woke up to its potential coincided, so that worked out.”

Niche of one’s own

When she started making videos, she neither had the know-how or the resources to make YouTube videos. So, she did the next best thing — creating stories on Instagram and Snapchat. “I used to sit at my office desk and make these videos. Gradually, I realised they were working really well, and it’s so much easier to consume these.”

Mallika is extremely happy with the space she’s carved out for herself, and how she’s fitting in. She’s also grateful for being able to work with the people that she has. But most of all, it pleases her that Indian comics have begun to eat into traditional advertising revenue. “Comedians are getting a huge chunk of it, so it’s a great time to be around.”

She’s been writing her own material, which she’ll focus on next year, and wants to work in films as well. But she’s also willing to let things happen, instead of forcing them. “When people hustle too much, the good stuff just escapes them.”

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2022 6:22:03 AM |

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