For starters, let’s acknowledge that Vir Das has a spectacular collection of headgear, and he perhaps is one of the few men in India, who can carry off a headband with supreme ease. In his latest special Vir Das: Outside In – The Lockdown Special, which is streaming on Netflix, we meet a different Das in the comfort of his home, and that’s how we get a sneak peek into his hat/cap/beret/headband collection. We also see the chinks in his armour as we meet a slightly vulnerable and emotional Das. We see him minus the arclights, the makeup and the paraphernalia that usually accompanies an A-lister stand-up artiste. What’s also missing is the stage, the audience that’s shrouded in darkness and a ‘defined set or act’, as Das performs live to homebound audiences from his study in Bandra. After the national lockdown started, Das started performing to groups of people over zoom, and he had to play it all by the ear. People could buy tickets to his show, and over Zoom, they could also be part of his act.
Over three months, Das performed for a variety of people from across the world. This is Comedy 101, a back to the basics refresher. The act reminds you of college or home gatherings when people would just trapeze into a party — yes it all seems a bit fantastical right now — and you would see a small group that would grow bigger with each passing minute. In the centre of that group would be a person who would be holding court and making everyone laugh around him/her with his/her observations, repartee and wit. That’s what Das is doing in Outside In – The Lockdown Special. He has to make do with new material every show, as it’s supplied from the audience, and it’s hard, because there is no ‘defined set/act’ to fall back on. Das has gone back to the drawing board, and is winging it, and how. He is very good at it, as he engages with the audience and makes them laugh, at their own expense. The special gives the vibe of an intimate house party, and everyone is having a laugh.
But Vir Das to his credit makes it work. He starts with a particular question to his audience. There are audience members who are 15 years old, and there are occasional elder members in the crowd as well. The questions remains the same, ‘what is the first thing you will do, once the lockdown is over’? The answers range from ‘eating ice cream’ to ‘meet my girlfriend’, ’to eat ‘Asian’ food’ , ‘ride my bike’, etc. All everyday, simple relatable things.
— Vir Das (@thevirdas) December 15, 2020
The 50-minute special, which is put together from the various shows that Das did, is not a typical comedy special. It’s intimate and it’s real. Das is dealing with actual people, and he can look into their homes, and actually see for himself if his jokes work. We too get a look behind the carefully orchestrated image of Das, and there are moments when we see the exterior shatter as Das talks about having a Covid scare, as a neighbour sneezed on him. He mentions it, and the incident did make national news. But a lot is left unsaid, maybe that was the idea. Wish Das would have opened up more, and showed us more of his vulnerabilities.
The highly relatable special will remind many of us of our own homes, our struggles with a zoom call, and parents who don’t get technology and struggle to switch on the camera on our laptops. There are some A-rated bits, but it’s all in good faith.
Vir Das is a creature of habit, and even though the special was about the Covid pandemic, we see glimpses of ‘left-winger’ (an inside joke from the special) stance. We get a nod to China, Donald Trump and also statue-building right-wingers of our country. But the politics doesn’t overwhelm or overshadow the topic at hand.
What the special does is, it validates the fear, the anxieties and the helplessness we all felt when the lockdown was at its peak. Now, months later, as we are fast approaching a vaccine and things have started to look up again, we might have forgotten how bad it really got for many of us, and we are not even talking about the people who bore the brunt of it, like migrant workers and daily wage labourers. Das calls out that privilege, and let’s admit, all of his audience is from the privileged lot, but at least you feel that you were not alone in it. Watch the special as it will make you smile, constantly. Spoiler Alert: Watch the credits sequence as that’s where it gets really cute. And while you are at it, watch Vir Das for India as well, and enjoy a double dose of Das.
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