How do you think people will react if someone dresses up like Narendra Modi?” Ratnabali Bhattacharjee lobs this little thought-bomb into our conversation. I’m with the Girliyapa team, on the premises of the TVF office, located in one of the quieter lanes of Andheri’s hyper-busy MIDC area. We’re discussing How I Raped Your Mother, the video that this all-girl team, constituted under the TVF umbrella, put out to address the subject of marital rape.
Bhattacharjee, a well-known theatre actor and writer with Girliyapa, continues: “Two days ago, Meryl Streep went on stage dressed up as Donald Trump, but can you imagine a comedian doing that in India? What do you think will happen?” The question is, of course, rhetorical. Bhattacharjee knows only too well how people will react to such provocation-in-the-name-of-satire in India. She is, after all, the writer of How I Raped Your Mother, a web episode that she wrote following media debates on the issue of marital rape. The comments on the video range from the supportive (“this is an amazing video!”) to the misjudged (“Marital rape is a crime. Why make a joke out of it?”), to the genuinely abhorrent (“I don’t support rape, but what can a man do if his wife refuses to have sex with him?”). As Bhattacharjee points out, “It’s really like a social study. You can see how men and women think by simply going through the comments. And we didn’t even have to explain anything about marital rape, because there was a lively debate in the comments where many of our viewers took it upon themselves to explain the issue to others. It’s fascinating to read.”
It’s not just How I Raped Your Mother; all of Girliyapa’s offerings are provocative, whether it’s The Period Song with which the channel celebrated International Women’s Day or Why Should Hot Girls Have All the Fun? which is their most watched video so far, with over a million views. The aim is to share funny, quirky stories and ideas, from the perspective of women. As writer Shruti Madan, a former copywriter, says, “There’s always been a lot of content about women, but the female voice has been missing. We realised that nobody is doing content that shows women being themselves.” They also wanted to challenge the old chestnut about how women cannot be funny, says channel head Tracy Dsouza. She says, “We have somehow internalised the idea that women are not funny, and from the female comedy perspective, except for a few like Aditi Mittal, there are very few names that come to mind. We are hoping to challenge that with Girliyapa.”
Girliyapa’s content started taking shape in August last year, with Fashion Waley Babu (Ft Goodshah and BADSHAH), a spoof on rapper Badshah’s monster party hit, DJ Waley Babu, featuring Aastha Gill, but the channel was officially launched on March 7 this year, with The Period Song. Dsouza, a former advertising professional, says, “We did that video (Fashion Waley Babu), but realised that women are not just about fashion, so we started looking at how we can convey what it is like to be a woman. We wanted to tell stories about what is closest to our hearts.”
Madan adds, “It’s so liberating to talk about things like menstruation, which most people find very uncomfortable to talk about in public. For example, in the video Why Should Hot Girls Have All The Fun, we decided to bring out into the open an idea that almost every girl has had at some point, and so many people responded to it,” she says, “In fact, for most of our content, the response is 90 per cent positive, and we’ve had women telling us that we have captured the way they talk to their friends.”
Of course, there has been a backlash too, particularly with How I Raped Your Mother, with many viewers refusing to accept that marital rape exists. One viewer, Dsouza says, was outraged at the idea that a girl could sit with her family to discuss the issue. “She asked us, ‘What will you show next? A family sitting around discussing porn?’ It’s hard to make people understand that what the girl in the video is discussing is not sex, but rape,” sighs Dsouza.