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 Azeem Banatwalla. A member of East India Comedy, Banatwalla is from Mumbai and was ranked among the top 20 comedians of the country by CNN-IBN in 2014. He regularly performs at Mumbai’s Canvas Laugh Factory and has opened for American comedian Dwayne Perkins on his India tour.
How political is comedy in India?
I don’t think comedy or satire can exist anywhere without at least a few members of the community being political. Yes, there are a lot of “political” comics and a lot of them are big names in the comedy scene. On the whole, I think they’d [stand-ups who do political comedy] account for less than 30-40 per cent of the stand-up comedy scene in general. Of course, I could be wrong.
How important is it for comedy to be political?
I don’t think it’s particularly important. Comedy is comedy. What matters most is that the comic should feel satisfied that he’s speaking his mind without being a sell-out and that the audience should have a good laugh. Whether or not that entails being political is irrelevant.
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.
The illusion that there are a lot of liberal comics in the country is because they’re probably the biggest names. Being political sort of sells in the current climate. I’d probably put myself among the more conservative comics. I talk about what affects my life, something that I have a strong opinion about. Religion, for instance, or society. I have more of a problem with society than I do with the political system.
I do enjoy writing on news, but I don’t feel the need to be political unless I feel strongly about it. I’d probably go on a limb and say that most of my fellow members at East India Comedy are more on the conservative side. Again, I could be wrong. See how politically correct I am?
Where would you place yourself on our liberal–conservative scale?
Probably a 7.5 if that’s possible.