The New Offence Line-up: Karunesh and the bandits
Stand-up comedy review: Paka Mat Na Mote
Stage: Vapour Bangalore
Production: Evam Standup Tamasha
Date: Sunday, 24th July, 2016
Comic: Karunesh Talwar
Open Spots: Shunky R Chugani, Kjeld Sreshth, Suman Kumar
Disclaimer: This article is based on actual events, conversations, and digital archives, as well as re-creations of probable events, using sober logic and approximated humour, to provide an academic documentation; opinions received of which, are reflective only of the reader’s perspective.
This review of Sunday night’s show is a benchmark in my understanding of comedy in India. I acknowledge– responsibility of personal biases, need for validation, a bruised ego and a stubborn standpoint of an educator– in the ideation of this piece. Thus, my motivation here is to keep my opinion as objective as, artistically possible while putting across an offensive viewpoint.
The show organised by Evam Stand-up Tamasha at the Vapour Pub and Brewery, was very evidently a great success. Karunesh and his open spot crew were met with great cheer and accommodation. The setting was that of a large hostel party with jubilant banter amongst well-acquainted strangers.
The show itself was hilarious, but I couldn’t get myself to laugh;
My respect for the profession was shattered.
My school of thought is that Comedy is a beautiful art form and comedians are the most sensitive artists. Humour itself manifests from intangible human emotion and translates it into something that no other performance can capture. It is an amalgamation of nuanced observation, mindful purpose, historic accountability and empathetic practice. Stand-up comedians especially, are proactive designers, thinking up a witty relatable conversation or two, with a crowd that worships them.
In a culture like India, where societal compartmentalization is still a dominant factor effecting the deterioration of the quality of mass media– comedy cuts across ethnicities, literature, languages, mediums, orientations, political stands, religions and even individualistic opinions. Here, comedy speaks to the largest democracy in the world, just by pure emotional connection. Imagine, the potential of this great artistic expression when it is matched with the audience reach of the world wide web.
To add to the incredible mix, Comedy in India speaks to a “Power of 1.8 billion”– a space where 28 per cent of the population is 10 to 24 year-olds; essentially combining two greatest wild cards in the current arbitrary leadership pockets.
While I can neither manipulate nor persuade my content like the sham of Free Basics or the success of the All India Bakchod’s brilliant Save the Internet campaign; you will sense my blatant fascination for the mass reach of Humour through my ornate jargon.
Simply put, comedy has the potential to bring inconceivable change and it’s a cause I strongly believe in;
And Karunesh Talwar’s Paka Mat Na Mote, offended me.
It offended me, because the medium for which I hold such a high regard was embezzled by a veteran writer of great comic repute; and his being 24 years old did not help the case.
Undeniable, command over skill and material aside, my first reaction to Karunesh and his crew is best articulated through this image–
The whole show felt like a bunch of little brats running around during recess, high on a sugar rush, having a ball, making merry with an audience that validated their juvenile behaviour. Also, a form of comedy– one that I did not foresee.
And I realise I have no defence against my own biased argument.
“They say the world is a stage. But obviously the play is unrehearsed and everybody is ad-libbing his lines.”
“Maybe that’s why it’s hard to tell if we’re living in a tragedy or a farce.”
“We need more special effects and dance numbers.”
All of the above said, I now reroute this article to it’s original purpose, in hopes that any comic reading this would take my one paisa’s worth of opinion and interpret it for the greater good.
The show began with an abrupt introduction to Shunky, a designer turned comic, whose articulate material made up for his darting pace. His stance was charming and easy-going, but his nested loops of intimate stories were hard to follow. Nonetheless, he set a comfortable rhythm to the event and got his fair share of amusement from the crowds.
Mr. Kjeld Sreshth (with the husky J) took on the stage next, and inspite of his incomprehensible name, managed to find an admirable on-stage voice. His material was mostly an unflattering opinion of himself that kept the people engaged consistently. It was Kjeld’s rawness that won over, both his conversation and the young audience.
Here, an overview of the ambience is due; Vapour as a stage is not my favourite because it’s usually an over-enthusiastic borderline-drunk, opinion-no-bar– crowd, the traffic of the waiters is distracting, the seating is exceptionally informal and cluttered, and stage feels like an imposition to what could potentially be a decent pedestal. The constant murmuring and utensils clinging, offensively deflects from the performance, which I personally find, disrespectful of the artist.
By the third and final open slot act, the crowd in it’s utter grandeur welcomed, Suman, who set the stage for my discomfort. His attempt at using a political commentary tone to speak to an audience that barely averaging half his age, managed an interesting perspective to conventional comedy-handbook content. His timing was well paced, as he took his time to deliver rehearsed dialogues. As a package, Suman felt like he has a lot to express, but his inability to strike a balance with himself and his fabricated content, made the experience of his performance, superficial.
Now, for my Moby Dick, and the analogy is in no reference to Karunesh’s personality, but a pronouncement as Ahab, captain of the whaler Pequod, out to avenge his destroyed ship.
Karunesh’s set was brutally honest, with absolute disregard for most variables like respecting his profession, political correctness, unequipped grotesque humour, and sensitive Indian contexts.
His reputation of being a renounced writer for popular comedians, made for a carte blanche performance where he was very aware of the fact that he could do whatever he likes on that stage. My interpretation of which, was blatant pride of an indisciplined ziddi child in a mall, narcissistically carefree of anyone’s feelings and position.
He began with a proclaimed zoned-out conversation in Hindi, much to the delight of many homesick audience members. His admiration for Game of Thrones and Harry Potter, set tone for a pood-pakka (Bengali term for a child with a ripe buttock, that has no other English equivalent) with a mic and a guitar. His material ranged from absurdist to dark, as he took it upon himself to defend the anti-offence movement as a single-handed collective response for all Indian comics.
His stories were snippets dashing for context to context, crossing ethical boundaries on a whim, through provocation of the audience’s ‘Indian mentality’ ego with a boyish, “I feel bad for you guys” random commentary. Without a doubt, his ‘tatti’ reference as intellectual mockery was ingenious, yet still highly unempathetic.
Perhaps, my vexation was a result of Karunesh’s complete ignorance of the contextually obsolete material. Whether, it was the impudent remarks on Jaadu from that one movie thirteen years ago or the fairness cream commercial from when he was possibly a kid in a diaper. His stand on ‘fairness cream for men’ not being a big deal overlooked an important theoretical statement on sexism, misguiding the notion completely, by his feministic stand, just by using it as a term.
I refuse to believe that he came prepared for anything more that just a Naach Basanti Naach performance, without motivation for anything more. This is not to disregard that Karunesh, himself is an highly observant and a sensitive individual, possibly going through an existential crisis that he is probably infantile for– in the larger scheme of things.
So, the questions I ask Karunesh now, that I was unable to articulate earlier in our post-event conversation– How is your ‘tatti’ inference different conceptually, from the Jaadu-Bollywood analogy? What does comedy, if at all, mean to you, in a larger context of you? And why do you want to continue down this yellow bricked road that poses as a red carpet?
Inspite of my inexposure to underground stand up comedy, I sense the mass uproar of populist renegades, led by the likes of Karunesh– converting talented souls into aimless rebels, navigating an unsuspecting crowd from the brutality of an autocratic democracy. This hypothesis transcends to the deduction, that these young men and women of the comic industry are speaking to a significant, immature, unevolved– audience, that are the bright futures that our leaders sell globally.
Cynicism aside, comedy has no right way or wrong, it thrives in the grey light area of an ever evolving post-structural culture, and the only hope that there is for any transformation– good, bad or ugly– is that it’s patrons are self-aware of their purpose.
As the thing with being an artist goes, you’re only the beholder of the mirror that reflects society, careful not to be pulled into the blackhole that mass validation dictates.
Everything said and done–
“It’s a magical world, Hobbes, ol’ buddy…Let’s go exploring!”