In a country like India, where taking offence is a national pastime, how political can the comic scene be? Is it okay to make jokes on politicians and their politics, or is everyone too scared of Jaya Bachchan?
We sent email questionnaires to India’s leading comics and satirist to get answers to these questions. We also asked them to rate themselves on our liberal-conservative scale.
Next on our series is Rohan Desai. A graphic designer from Gurgaon, Desai won the Raw Comedy competition (Indian edition of the popular Australian comedy festival) in 2014. This earned him international acclaim. Back home, Desai wrote, directed and acted in “The Seinfeld Situation”, a comedy sketch that went viral around the time Jerry Seinfeld was to perform in India.
How political is comedy in India?
Mainstream mein tho not at all. There is no space or platform to do it. YouTube is slightly better I guess, but still things can get tricky there as well. A live stage is surprisingly free. I have seen quite a few comedians say a lot of politically volatile things without facing any issues. At most people stop laughing, or they get pissed and heckle the artist. Legal actions or threats are extremely rare, even with religiously offensive material.
There are instances where things have taken a turn for the worst. But then again, those instances are very rare and they happen mostly when you insult someone or when the comic is drunk and not completely in their senses. If a comedian understands the context he is performing in and makes it clear that he is joking, you can pretty much get away with anything in my opinion.
Indian audiences, in my experience, are easily pleased and very forgiving.
How important is it for comedy to be political?
Well, it’s important to have some kind of comedy that is political. But just like any other art form, I don’t think it’s fair to burden comedy with the responsibility of having to say something political. But having said that, nothing happens in isolation or vacuum. Even when you don’t mean it to, most of what is created has its own politics. A Karan Johar film may not be intended to be political, but it still puts forward a certain political idea intentionally or unintentionally that I can’t say.
We know there is a large number of liberal comics (writers and performers) in India. But are there any conservative comics in the country? If yes, please name a few.
Rahul Roushan of the faking news is the only one that comes to mind. But I don’t know him personally, I just know of him.
Where would you place yourself on our liberal–conservative scale?
Socially I’d say I’m quite liberal. Probably at 1 I guess.