Actor-comedian Vir Das’ Two Indias monologue has been making headlines for more reasons than one
Speaking truth to power
Actor-comedian Vir Das’ Two Indias monologue has been making headlines for more reasons than one. It has gone viral ever since he uploaded it on social media and the controversies surrounding it and reactions to it have left the people divided, just like the two Indias he had talked about at the Kennedy Center in Washington recently.
The stand-up comedian has been receiving both backlash and applause in equal numbers, which doesn’t seem to die down even a week later. He has even been banned from performing anywhere in Madhya Pradesh by its Home Minister Dr Narottam Mishra. Despite it all, Vir refuses to be bogged down by the trolls and said that he would continue doing what he does best — satire. We speak to comics in Hyderabad, who share where they think the problem lies, what this means for them as content creators and about the future of stand-up comedy in the country.
The problem came with Vir speaking about it on foreign land and it does not have anything to do with him saying anything factually incorrect, believes city-based comic Hriday Ranjan, who has been following his work for years now. “He is known for the kind of content he puts out, he’s always been political through his work and his recent monologue was nothing out of the ordinary. All those opposing him can’t deny the truth in his statements, nothing of what Vir said in the video was factually incorrect. The problem came with him speaking about it openly on a foreign land. We Indians grow up with a sense of ‘ghar ki baat ghar mein hi rehni hai (the problems of one’s family must remain behind closed doors)’. So, when people saw him speaking about our problems to such a huge crowd, they called it an insult,” Hriday says.
Asked if incidents like these would cross his mind when he pens a joke next time, he says, “Absolutely not, but more because the very tolerant Hyderabad crowd has spoiled me to brazenly speak about whatever I want on stage. They’re never bothered about somebody not agreeing to, or joking about, what they believe in. They understand that a comic is just a guy with a mic, who wants to make people laugh.”
Another comic from the city, Sandesh Johnny, thinks that the issue has been blown out of proportion for no good reason. “Vir Das’ Two Indias is shallow. He can, and sure has the right to, say all that he wants to, but as a consumer of his content I refuse to take his monologue as the perfect representation of India, it was not well-researched and is the truth for only 20 per cent of India’s urbane crowd. India has even bigger problems and those went unaddressed. For instance, the caste system. Yet, it’s okay and I won’t hold Vir accountable as he is just an artiste, it’s not his job to put out facts as they are,” says Sandesh, without mincing words.
On how the vicious trolling comics face, he says, “Honestly, it is not as big a problem as it is made out to be. Madhya Pradesh not allowing Vir to perform in their State isn’t a big implication. The tickets to Vir’s shows are sold out in the US, this is not a big loss and won’t stop others like me from speaking truth to power. In fact, a fresh graduate is probably looking up Vir and stand-up comedy on the Internet and is making a new discovery. It’s more publicity than one can think. Kunal (Kamra) has 46 cases against him and he just finished his show last week in the city. These things will continue to happen, the attacks are fresh on stand-up comedy because it’s a young art form in India. Tomorrow another kid will get on stage, say worse things and get away with it,” believes Sandesh.
One of Hyderabad’s favourite comics, Rohit Swain, says that people have been unnecessarily worried about India’s image being tarnished on an international stage: “It’s silly of people to think that one monologue that talks about both the beauty and problems of India will show the country in bad light.” He says that while this incident has been much of a problem, the arrest of comedians like Munawar Faruqui shook the community of artistes. “While I will always strive to be honest and real with my personal experience and the jokes I write, the image of Munawar Faruqui being arrested right in front of my eyes will haunt me,” he concludes.
After Vir Das refused to be bogged down by the backlash his monologue Two Indias has been receiving, comics in Hyderabad share where they think the problem lies, what this means for them as content creators and about the future of stand-up comedy in the country