Vir Das is one funny man, but he is great to talk to as well. He has recently garnered a lot of appreciation for his show on Netflix called Abroad Understanding, and is soon going to be honoured at the Just for Laughs festival in Montreal. Vir is also preparing for Hasmukh, a web-show, a dark comedy, which he is developing with Bollywood film director Nikkhil Advani.
Vir Das opens up about why he wants to make sure that he offers original Indian comedy to the world, and what he thinks about comedy on Indian Television.
On being honoured at the Just for Laughs Festival in Montreal
I didn’t know what a big deal it was, to be honest with you. I got a call from my agency in the middle of the night, typically they wouldn’t call me in the middle of the night, and there it was, fifteen people on the phone. What I didn’t know is that the award is not picked by the Variety magazine, it is Variety going out to all the studios, casting people, and bookers, it is a trade award, and the industry is recognizing you. So, that I am excited about, I am optimistic about what happens next in that space. I have to perform, it is the only place where you have to perform to get the award. So I have to write a good ten minutes for that. I am the only Indian on that list, and I might be the first Indian to make it to the list, so I am excited.
On how progressive is Indian digital content
As nascent as it is, it is a very timing related question. It has kind of just started so it will get more and more progressive as time passes. But if you look at what’s happening digitally right now, we haven’t seen a lot of stuff just yet. However I hope, the response to this kind of content on digital platforms is as progressive as the content.
On why people on Indian television comedy need to stop putting men in a saree to make comedy and simply hire the fabulous Indian female comedians instead
I think the Indian audience is accepting digital content extremely warmly. There is a reason these things go viral, and a reason these shows are written, etc. I think 90% of the people who get mad at such things are people who haven’t watched it, and are trying to create some kind of political drama.
On the global scenario, I was only worried that whatever I present has to be Indian, when I worked on Abroad Understanding for Netflix. I wanted to show that I am originally Indian. So whatever comedy we put forward it could be edgy, slapstick or urban, but it has to be Indian. I don’t know why we need men to wear women clothes to make comedy, we have some fantastic women comedians, just hire them! I would like to see that stopping. We need to stop putting a guy in a saree, it was fine in the times of Shakespeare when women were not allowed to perform.
In terms of what’s happening on Indian television, there is a very large audience. A lot of it is not my particular cup of tea, but it does qualify as comedy, having said that I think we are painting a massy comedy with a slapstick brush, which is kind of unfair. India has had a long history of stand-up comedy, we’ve some amazing haasya-kavi and Urdu shaayari culture for a very long time. So if you ever sit down at anyone of these hasya-kavi evenings in Lucknow you will get more edge and sarcasm than any one of us buggers at the Canvas Laugh Factory, or any other theater. If you ever hear Surendra Sharma, the poet and humourist, then you will get edgier comedy than any Vir Das or anyone else on stage. So I feel excited about taking the English-Indian comedy as an original perspective to the world, and also the hybrid original section of comedy. We are making Hasmukh in that space, so when that goes out in the digital work, it will be very existing.
On Hasmukh, his first web-series with Bollywood film director Nikkhil Advani
Hasmukh is dark humour. It is at the end of the day, a one man story, a very violent funny man’s story. I had this idea for a comedian who is a serial killer, and I brought it to Nikhil. We have been developing some stuff about from three years ago.
So I had the idea, and Netflix had happened, so I figured out that I need to do acting in digital space now. It is very very violent, but it is as funny as it is violent, that’s what I would say about Hasmukh. I will be continuing working in mainstream cinema as well. There are three films. The nice thing is everything is being shot so fast, and it is consumed so fast that you don’t have to compromise for one over the other.