Friday, August 02, 2013

Setting the Stage On Fire

Three stand-up comedians – Sahil Shah, Azeem Banatwalla and Sourabh Pant – entertain with their wide-ranging satirical quips about Indian society 

Photo: Sahil Shah 

By Shevlin Sebastian

At the ‘Pant On Fire’ show at the JT Pac, Kochi, comedian Sahil Shah takes a dig at powerful people. The first is the venerable President of India. “Pranab Mukherjee is so old his original voting constituency was Mohenjo Daro,” he says. “He is so old that every day the Indian flag flies at half-mast just in case…”

And then Sahil takes on the family of the mighty industrialist Mukesh Ambani. “In Mumbai, there are slums where there are 50 people staying in three rooms and there is no place to move,” says Sahil. “On the other hand, there is Mukesh Ambani’s house where there are three people and no place to move. I am not saying that Akash Ambani is fat, guys, but if he was here for the show tonight, it would have been house full.”

Sahil, a Gujarati, also takes a dig at the stinginess of his own community. “Mahatma Gandhi is a true Gujarati,” says Sahil. “When his wife told him salt is available for free, he trekked to another part of the country to get it.” No surprises that the audience was in splits and this continued when Azeem Banatwalla, perhaps the only Muslim stand-up comedian in the country, appeared on stage.   

He also settles into the same vein, as Sahil. “When Iran sent a rocket into space, they also sent a monkey along with it,” says Azeem. “As Indians we would never do that. We know that a flying monkey is only useful if your wife is stuck in Sri Lanka.”

Here’s another one. “In the festival of Id, the most important aspect is that you get to see a Salman Khan film,” he says. “Last year's Id special was Ek Tha Tiger, which is soon to be followed by Do Tha Blackbuck followed by Gaadi Ka Neeche.” These are intelligent digs at the blackbuck shooting case in which Salman is charged, apart from a hit and run event in which the actor ran over and killed a few footpath dwellers while driving a car late at night.

Interestingly, Azeem has an interest in sporting matters, including Kerala’s very own Sreesanth.

Sreesanth had to give 14 runs in one over,” says Azeem. “And this was so difficult for him. Because he is used to giving away 16 runs. He was the first guy who had to raise his game in order to fix a match. It was frustrating for the bookie.”

The bookie said, “Hi Sreesanth, I need to fix up a match. You need to give away 10 runs.”

Sreesanth says, “What!

Bookie: “I am not messing with you. How much can you give away?”

16,” says Sreesanth.

The bookie asks his colleague, “Do we have Munaf's no?”

The colleague says, “Munaf [Patel] does not have a phone.”

Azeem then talks about an actual Indian football player who, astonishingly, has a name called Climax Lawrence. “He goes to a pub and tells a woman, ‘Hi, Climax,’”

And the woman says, “Already.”

No, my name is Climax, and this is my younger brother Foreplay.”

Azeem also pulls a fast one on the ‘72 virgins belief’ that all suicide bombers are told they will meet, when they die. “There are so many questions,” says Azeem. “Like where do they come from? What were they upto before? Are virgins usually virgins because nobody wants to have sex with them? Like female police constables and Air India hostesses, or mummies. What happens when God pulls back the curtain and there are 72 Kiran Bedis. Or 72 Mayawatis, of which 66 are statues. And you are thinking, ‘What the hell, I did not blow myself for this?!’”

Azeem is also not blown away by the big brands who have invaded India. “When I go to these shops, they have the summer and winter collections,” he says. “I want to tell them, ‘Boss I am in Bombay. Summer and winter are the same. Winter is just summer featuring Jesus.’”

Soon, it is Azeem’s turn to introduce the next comedian, Sourabh Pant. “'He is the No. 1 comedian in the bedroom,' says his wife,” says Azeem. But Sourabh does not take it lying down. “Azeem Banatwala is a Muslim with a sense of humour,” says Sourabh. “That's an oxymoron. It's like a Congress person who says cheque payments.”

Then, to the delight of the audience, Sourabh says, “I love Kochi.” He pauses and then utters the punch line, “You guys are like Pondicherry without the alcohol. I love Mallus but what are you doing here? Didn't you get a visa for Dubai ?”

Sourabh also takes a dig at men’s fetish to see pornography. “When you ask a man what he is doing and he will say, ‘I am watching TV’ which is a code word for seeing dirty pictures on the Internet,” says Sourabh. “If you don't believe it, log on to your man's laptop, find a folder which has an innocuous name like ‘Systems’. Inside that, there will be a sub folder called 192.269 or some rubbish. Inside that, there will be another folder titled, ‘Virus, please do not enter’. And in there will be [porn star] Sunny Leone's entire autobiography.”

All three comedians displayed a manic energy, with non-stop jokes, funny facial expressions, and dynamic movements. They never seem to falter at any time, the monologue just flowing out in a ceaseless flow. However, their ideal target group should have been a young hip crowd, who would understand all the allusions they made. For the Kochi audience, a mix of young, middle-aged and the old, the youngsters liked them a lot, while a member of the older generation said, “I would give them 6 out of 10.”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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