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Friday, September 24, 2021

‘Comedy is a funny way of being serious’

Tanya Bami, Director, International Originals, Netflix India, on Indian comedy, Comedy Premium League, Kapil Sharma and why laughter will always lead the way.

Written by Ektaa Malik | Mumbai |
Updated: August 19, 2021 5:30:46 pm
ComedyPremiumLeague_NetflixNetflix’s latest offering Comedy Premium League (CPL) to bring 16 comedians together leading to eight episodes of laughter.

Known for its comedy specials, Netflix’s latest offering Comedy Premium League (CPL) promises to bring 16 comedians on one stage with one host, leading to eight episodes of laughter. While the streaming giant’s international offerings feature Dave Chappelle, Amy Schumer and Seth Meyers, the Indian line-up boasts specials by Vir Das, Amit Tandon, Kenny Sebastian and Ladies Special. CPL features arguably the best of Indian comedy.

From old hands like Tanmay Bhat and Rohan Joshi, to newcomers like Urooj Ashfaq and Samay Raina, the show is a mixture of old school stand up comedy-meets roasts- meet satire-meet variety show. Tanya Bami, Director, International Originals, Netflix India, explains the need for a CPL in India, the OTT space and why laughter is serious business. Excerpts.

Tanya Bami, Director, International Originals, Netflix India, explains the need for a CPL in India, the OTT space and why laughter is serious business.

Tell us more about CPL.

We (Netflix), on the unscripted side, are cooking a lot. CPL is one of our first offerings. It’s a homegrown format, something that our partners at OML(Only Much Louder) have put together for us. In the past we had some amazing stand up specials but now the idea for us is to diversify the comedy genre, because within it there are just so many offerings that are possible. This format in itself encapsulates so many genres of comedy. There is sketch, parody, improv and roast. This is like a variety show, but it’s uniquely comedy based. We have brought together fan favourites, female talent and new voices. We’re very proud to have a diverse line-up. There is an additional surprise element in the show as well.

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Was it difficult to get together 17 ‘funny’ people on a single stage?

We were worried about the fact that this was shot in the middle of the pandemic and comedy needs an audience. There was very little audience but you don’t feel it because of the energy of the talent. They kept at it and drove the energy levels to such a high. It’s all sort of, thankfully, come together. The format relies so heavily on the person performing, he/she is the writer, creator, ideator, everything is driven from their energy. There’s an authenticity and an honesty to this comedy.

India culturally has had a tradition of satire, comedy and quick wit. But only now we are seeing this resurgence of comics and stand up comedy.

Comedy is serious business is India. The reaction that we received on the announcement of our association with Kapil Sharma is a testament to the fact that comedy cuts through. One would assume that Kapil Sharma is a TV star, but he has such a diverse following, he is everyone’s Kapil. We keep saying that everyone’s Netflix is different. Kapil has a shade to him, which appeals to different people in different ways. He is sort of definitive of that phase of Stand Up comedy in the country.

What has driven that change? Has the audience evolved or has the content changed?

It’s said that comedy is a funny way of being serious. Our audience is curious about the world around them. Just by virtue of comedy being that serious business, it’s about opinions of icons, it’s about interpretations or observations of the world around them, it is about the experience when you sit in one of these open mics. The open mics are such a fun and intimate experience, you come out, you’ve had a good time, they’ve hit upon some things you’ve probably thought about and you connect and relate with it. It’s all very relevant and it’s stuff that one has been thinking about. That’s what we have managed to do at Netflix with the Netflix specials. We have managed to create a story, create a treatment and create an aesthetic where a stand up special almost feels as intimate as one of those open mics. So when you watch a Vir Das open a Parle G packet, on screen you feel that you are right there. The thing with comedy is you go in expecting a laugh, but you’re not prepared to cry, or be angry, or come out feeling upset about something. So you go through a journey. Comedy is just yet another way of telling the story. It just stays with you longer.

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Netflix has been in India for five years now. Have you figured out what works in India yet?

It’s difficult to spot trends right now but the one thing that was evident is that because of what we have gone through as a community, the audience have been leaning towards watching stand up specials during the pandemic. I think everyone wants that little bit of lightning of mood. Comedy as a genre was consumed more, with a very close second of thrillers. I think it’s just about distracting one’s mind. But we love our laughs for sure. Ludo was such a great success. Also we need to understand that we can’t look at comedy as a standalone genre because very often it’s a tonality of a dialogue, it’s the way a scene is scripted. Comedy is an intrinsic part of our viewing experience. At Netflix, we are really strengthening and diversifying this genre specifically, we are looking at sitcoms, specials and multiple formats. We even had a lockdown special with Vir Das, which he did digitally.

How are you dealing with the new IT and OTT rules that have been put in place for streaming services.

We believe in the ability of the creators to tell their stories. But we are very cognizant that we follow both the government and the industry norms and regulations — both for creators and for ourselves. And that’s really the way we approach it.

What’s next for Netflix?

We have the Kapil Sharma special, and Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Heera Mandi has been announced. The pandemic, sadly, has affected the stand up special space, as it is audience driven. But we have other unscripted reality shows lined-up, documentaries and series. We started filming season 2 of Bollywood Wives recently. There is Crime Detectives and House of Secrets, both docu series. There’s a dating reality show in the works as well, In Real Love, in partnership with Tinder.

Comedy Premium League streams on August 20, on Netflix

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