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War of the poses

Deepa GahlotIt is a battle zone, or maybe not, depends on the perception of the observer. To me, it looks like an uneven playing field, with most of the men in jeans, loafers, crumpled shirts left out over paunches, accompanied by skinny women in tight jeans or dresses, six-inch stilettos, salon-set hair, full make-up and toting large shoulder bags. The men are glowering at their phones, the women are checking out what the others are wearing. The men are wolfing down sandwiches, and the women are holding stemmed glasses of cold coffee, that they are pretending to drink.

It’s SoBo’s classy spot, the Tata Theatre, and this crowd has come to watch Vir Das’s new comedy show, Battle of Da Sexes, and they have that determined ‘we will have fun’ look in their eyes. The stage is all flashing lights and in the middle is a large wing chair that Vir Das sits in once during the show, and a guitar, which he does strum a lot. He is now a star stand-up comic, and even before he steps on stage, people are in a mood to laugh. Let’s say, a new Vir Das show is the Chennai Express of the stage. It’s a hit before the first ticket is sold; and the tickets are sold out in 24 hours.

After two successful big-ticket shows (with Ashvin Gidwani producing and promoting), Walking on Broken Das and History of India Virwritten, (and many smaller stand-up and music gigs, plus films), Vir Das is India’s best known stand-up comedian, probably the only one who can sell out a thousand seats. This column has noted the rise of the stand-up act earlier, and Das is the undisputed leader so far. His first show followed the then accepted formula - sexual innuendo, profanity, insult the audience, diss some celebrities, and well, people who have paid to laugh, will laugh.

It was with History of India Virwritten that Das really honed his act and stamped himself as an original. Who else could present a history lesson and have audiences laughing like mad? But for a few cuss words and pelvic thrusts, History... was clean and ‘well-behaved’ (in his words), and still a huge success. Das showed that it was possible to be funny without being dirty. His new show is on the eternal gender war, and he turns up on stage in a Scottish kilt, which, he says is as unisex as he could be. Men and women are seated in separate sections, because throughout the show, they are expected to lend their lung power to answer questions that Das chucks at them or react to his wicked comments.

Like History... this one too is researched, uses facts, statistics and intelligent humour (the screen behind him has some hilarious factoids) with Das and his quips - some rehearsed, some ad-libbed - having the audience on both sides of the divide providing some high-decibel laughter. Of course, the differences between men and women are an industry; books like Men Are From Mars Women Are From Venus or Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps, etc are bestsellers. It has to be understood, that this pretend battle will be full of clichés and generalisations; that it will not even touch on real issues - it’s a comedy show, not an NGO meet. But there are still plenty of surprises.

When, for instance, Das talks of the way men and women listen to music, and says that women concentrate on words, and the female half of the hall actually sings the lyrics to the songs he starts, all he needs to get the cheers is an ‘I-told-you-so’ shrug. When the richest man in the world, Carlos Slim, makes his fortunes from multiple businesses and the richest woman in the world, Liliane Bettencourt just needs to own 30 per cent of L’Oreal, that’s some indication of gender inequality.

When he says the all-time favourite movie of men is Die Hard and women picked Sleepless In Seattle, that’s an ‘uh-oh’ moment - which gender has worse taste? From evolution to politics, from sports to crime, from erogenous zones to idiotic deodorant ads, Das systematically runs through everything - perhaps just leaving out the insides of women’s handbags as compared to men’s back pockets. He lampoons Rahul Gandhi, Aamir Khan, Mamata Banerjee (will he be about to get out of Kolkata in one piece?) and Arjun Rampal, but except for a slip up or two (lifting the kilt was one), keeps within the bounds of good taste.

His energy, repartee and wit makes even the raunchy acceptable. Not many stand-up comics can be mature and inoffensive at the same time...plus carry off that absurd costume that only suits Sean Connery, and he is a real Scotsman. The show actually picked a winning side, it would be a spoiler to reveal which, but heck, when one side is tottering on heels and the other in comfy shoes with smelly socks inside, it’s an unequal battle.

- Deepa Gahlot is an award-winning film and theatre critic and an arts administrator 

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