I know what you are thinking. Arre, Kangana Ranaut moti ho gayi hai? I get it all the time, Kangana, Kangana!. Then I check my bank balance. Aukat!,” says Anu Menon as she opens her first stand-up special, Wonder Menon, on Amazon Prime. The audience on the show responds with peals of laughter. Wonder Menon marks the full-fledged return of Anu Menon, otherwise is better known for her TV avatar Lola Kutty, to the screen. Menon as Kutty remains one of the most popular VJs on Channel V in the first decade of the 21st century.
The hour-long act has Menon channeling her inner ‘Wonder Woman’. She is sporting a large cuff bracelet and gladiator sandals — in a nod to the eponymous superhero — and is in a blue tunic dress while addressing a packed hall in Bangalore. “I am glad you noticed,” says Menon over the phone. “ This stand up had been on the cards for a while. My management company had been after me to do something. One always works backwards from a deadline, or else you will keep procrastinating — oh I have to fetch my son, and do other boring chores— who wants to sit and write? We got this show on the floors last year, end of February,” says Menon.
The stand-up special has Menon meander over a range of issues, her own curly hair for starters. She says on the show, “But this Kangana Ranaut has really monopolised the curly hair market… I am willing to do everything that Kangana Ranaut rejects, including Hrithik Roshan,” says Menon with intense concern on her face, eliciting roars of laughter from the audience. Her “vegetarian Gujju husband”, her mother and mother-in-law, and how she deals with the other tiger and helicopter moms that are super active on whats app groups are featured prominently in the act. Her own community, the Malyalis, is also at the receiving end of many a one liner. “All of these things have happened to me personally in some capacity or the other. I always believe that joke telling is in some way truth telling. Either the public will relate to it, or it will be so beyond their frame of context that they will find it funny. You either sympathise or empathise. Everyone has a different route to humour. I believe that if you just pander to what you think will work, the falsehood of it will come across and it won’t ring true,” adds Menon.
There are digs at Shashi Tharoor and “his favourite book, The Oxford English Dictionary”; Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, and at the same time there are references to Yashraj, sarson ke khet and others. “Yes I am all over the place. But, seriously speaking, many of them are throwaways. I admire political comedians, for I know that I can never be that. I am not so inclined. I only did what seemed to ring true,” says Menon. And yes, she has braced herself for the brickbats as well, though she asserts that it’s not easy to develop a super thick skin. “I am pretty democratic and secular, I have spoken with equal disregard, love and affection for every community and people. And if we start caring about ‘will this offend people’, then what will I talk about? Apart from saying hello, how are you, people now take offence to everything. I believe it should be our national pastime. I understood very early on, that whatever I did was very niche. You cannot be all things for everyone,” she says.
Menon was one of the first veejays to have embraced her heritage and ethnicity, turning it into a pop culture phenomenon. Her Kanjeevaram wearing, bespectacled, coconut-oil laden and heavily accented version — Lola Kutty — inspired an entire generation. In the cold open for Wonder Menon, Kutty and Menon are put in the same frame, the two sit across each other and we can see traces of one in the other. “I never had to struggle through open mics to test my material as I was known through Lola. And it was equally difficult as I had never been my own self. I had always been a character. Initially people would either be severely disappointed — that ‘oh you are nothing like Lola’ or be like ‘wow, you are nothing like her’. Lola was this lower-middle class girl, unmarried, from a village in Kozikhode. She came to Mumbai with a certain dream. She had to look and sound like that. She couldn’t look or sound like Anu, who came from an english-speaking, educated family from Chennai,” shares Menon, who has also had a thriving career simultaneously in theatre, having acted in plays such as Zen Katha, The Verdict and Only Women.
While Channel V may not exist anymore, it surely gave the nation a plum crop of youth icons, and Lola Kutty was one of them. “It was the most talented bunch of people I ever worked with. Gaurav, Purab, Yudi — they were all super creative and were at the forefront. Then we had Juhi, Piya and I, the second crop. When anything new starts, the intention is that we will be hatke, but it all sadly came to TRPs. Then Kyunki Saas.. had a TRP of 16, and Channel V was 0.1. That’s how niche we were,” recalls Menon.