Are entertainment diners again ready for a roast?

09 June,2024 07:51 AM IST |  Mumbai  |  Manik Sharma

Roast spelt trouble, we thought, until Aashish Solanki decided to give the controversial genre a new lease of life

Ashish Solanki

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The history of roast comedy, in India at least, is blotted by ignominy and outrage. Naturally, when comedian Aashish Solanki decided to give the format a new lease of life, the first reaction from within his fraternity was hesitance. "Nobody really has a good memory of roast comedy," he says. Solanki is of course, referring to the infamous AlB (All India Bakhchod) roast featuring Ranveer Singh and Arjun Kapoor, back in 2015, that relocated Indian comedy to a place from where rewards and risks have continually remained unprecedented. Roast comedy has since been whispered across corridors, held but rarely heralded, enacted but scarcely exhibited at scale. Solanki's The Pretty Good Roast Show hopes to offer proof that the tide has changed. About that, the show has been both right and wrong.

Solanki grew up in North Delhi, something his comedy embodies through both shape and tone. "I grew up not knowing what I wanted to do. When someone said MBA, I went for it. When someone said something else, I tried it out. But when people like Zakir Khan and AIB starting going viral, I had this feeling that I could give it [comedy] a shot," he says. Like most comedians working in what is possibly the most exciting yet unpredictable artistic space in India, Solanki discovered his knack for a punchline, in front of his friends. "The stage is completely different. Between friends, everyone knows the context, the personalities. But on stage, there is this surreal lack of familiarity. It's possibly the biggest hurdle a comedian has to face," he explains. The only method to doing comedy is to demolish your ego. "There is no learning school for comedy, except the school of bombing and failure."

Solanki has gradually risen in an industry that is fragmented, imprecise but also wildly rewarding. "I love that I don't have a boss. This form also doesn't need equipment, teams or instruments. A pen, a mic, and you are good to go," he says. Solanki was the winner of Comicstaan season 3, Amazon Prime Video's stellar stand-up reality show that has since his victory not been revived. His greatest splash though might be a genre of comedy that though derivative feels fresh, simply for the odds it is attempting to surmount. "We didn't have a proof of concept. We knew it would be good, but then belief alone wouldn't get us funds or support. We also wanted to remain independent at first, to keep our voice," he adds. Solanki decided to literally put his own money where his mouth is and bootstrapped a seven-episode season that might just lift the lid on something most consider radioactive in the comedy space.

The format is simple. A guest takes up the mantle of becoming the target, four comedians exact the verdict of ridicule, barbs and shots fly freely in every direction and everyone goes home hammered but happy. "We make sure our guest has the last laugh. Some of them can't even write jokes, so we write for them. There is design behind the equality on stage," the comedian says. But not everyone possesses the tolerance they wish to project. The show's fifth episode, featuring popular but prickly entrepreneur Ashneer Grover had to be pulled off YouTube, in response to offence the guest took after the episode had been shot. Even though news about the scrapped episode went viral, Solanki has chosen to not speak about it.

Said or unsaid, a public kerfuffle points to the precariousness of roast humour as a cultural and social ledge. It wasn't easy, Solanki claims, to find guests for the show given the history the format is associated with. Some 200 guests declined. But the eventual product, its growing popularity despite a dubious episode has piqued interest to the point that brands and people are lining up for season 2. "I think the country has grown in the last 10 years. Acceptance for art forms has grown. We still aren't there, but for now, the camaraderie of people within the comedy space and the thrill of getting a laugh out of people will help us endure. Even on days when it seems like we cannot."

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