'Many Indian stand-up comics are better than Russell Peters'

With his documentary on stand-up comedy in India, I Am Offended, director Jaideep Verma hopes to break stereotypes and capture an exciting, new scene in India in its nascent stage

Before he started work on India's first documentary on stand-up comedy, I Am Offended, Jaideep Verma had never watched a stand-up comedy show. But for the 47-year-old director — who earlier made documentaries such as Baawra Mann, based on Sudhir Mishra's life and Leaving Home, based on music band Indian Ocean and even a film titled Hulla in 2008 — humour has always been paramount.

Director Jaideep Verma
Director Jaideep Verma 

Verma was piqued by stand-up comedy when he heard about stand-up comics Andy Zaltzman in London and Varun Grover in Mumbai, who happen to be his good friends. "While shooting a show for Andy in Mumbai in December 2012, I discovered Gursimran Khamba, Tanmay Bhat and Aditi Mittal and liked their work. So I decided to explore the scene further," he says.

Over the course of one year, between 2012 and 2013, Verma worked on the 102-minute documentary that presents Indian stand-up comedy in the overall context of humour and the culture of offence. Featuring prominent stand-up comics such as Johnny Lever, Vir Das, Raju Srivastav, Varun Grover, Gursimran Khamba, Ashish Shakya, Rohan Joshi and legendary literary humourist PL Deshpande among others, the director says he hopes to capture an exciting, new stand-up scene in its nascent stage in India, one that challenges the status quo in many ways.

Through the course of the shoot, Verma made a few discoveries of his own. "These stand-up comics are extremely bright, even when it sometimes does not show in their performance. Sometimes, they make choices after second-guessing the audience or because they get too self-conscious and that falls flat. But they are quick-witted enough to turn it all around."

The documentary features  stand-up comedian Johnny Lever
The documentary features stand-up comedian Johnny Lever 

In an anecdote that stand-up comic Varun Grover shared with him in the film, he mentions a corporate show where things turned ugly because the company's management was second-guessing the audience there. "Comics learn to treat corporate shows as stints where they experiment with their 'safer' material," he says.

The documentary releases on February 5 on the YouTube channel, Being Indian Original, as part of its launch. Verma hopes to break a few stereotypes — including one that most stand-ups here are clones of Russell Peters. "Many artistes are far superior to Peters. I hope it comes across in the film," he says. As for the title of the film, he says that Indians have the propensity to take offence. "But when they're not looking over their shoulder to see who might be getting offended, they enjoy that same humour, which is strange," he smiles.

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