A funny start

Aug 11, 2018, 08:35 IST | Shunashir Sen

Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge's Chutki has grown up and is now a stand-up comic

A funny start
Pooja Ruparel in her new avatar

Around five years ago, Pooja Ruparel had returned from an acting audition in Mumbai, fuming from the ears. She had had an unsavoury experience, and let her indignation loose on a friend who was willing to lend her a patient ear. When she'd finished blowing her lid, the friend told her, "Just come again, and let me record everything you said." And it's when they heard that recording that both realised how the embedded humour in Ruparel's angry rant could, ironically, make for a comedy routine.

Now, most people would recognise Ruparel from her roles in films like King Uncle and Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, in which she essayed the role of Kajol's sister, Chutki. But that was 1995. By 2013, her sphere of interests had broadened beyond acting. It was also a time that the embryo had just hatched for India's comedy circuit. The people who were first to the post had laid the foundations for a burgeoning industry. So, when the realisation dawned on Ruparel that, "Hey, I can be funny when I'm fuming," she sensed an opportunity. And channelled her anger and spiced it up with tragedy to build her first stand-up routine.

"I was quite depressed at the time and turned to comedy as a coping mechanism. But back then, there weren't enough open-mic events. I was also busy with plays, and am usually doing five things at a time. Plus, I wanted to settle down [in my head] and be more in tune with what I wanted to say. So I took some time off. But, now I'm back and trying out another half-hour routine," she says, adding that having a good sense of humour is like breathing in good air — it's essential.

Ruparel as Chutki in DDLJ
Ruparel as Chutki in DDLJ

But how does she go about gathering material for her comedy? Is it from the everyday things around her? "Oh yes, absolutely. I have this little 'stand-up notes' section in my phone that's constantly being updated. I recently jotted down the news about seven men raping a goat in Haryana, for example. I am also wondering why people use caller tunes. I mean, it's your favourite song. So why do I have to listen to it when I call you, when you can't hear it yourself!"

It's a fair question, we tell her, and then ask for her assessment of the comedy scene as it stands at present. Ruparel comes across as an incisive person over the phone. She's also seen the circuit evolve since its inception, and says, "Unfortunately, it's still in its infancy. We are still finding our feet and are far from being a country where it's safe to speak your mind.

"But comedy is the highest form of critique. It's two pages condensed into two lines, and with shorter attention spans these days, you can actually lodge yourself in a person's brain if you are talking about something genuine. I am hoping that we can get through our drawbacks, though. The community has to stick with each other. We have to be patient and kind with ourselves. And I have to say that the scene is less insecure than when I first started. I mean, people would throw around cuss words for effect. But now there's less crap because the audience has been trained to tolerate less of it. They say that it takes a comic 25 years to come into his own. If you look at videos of Louis CK when he was young, he seems like any one of us, really. So, it takes time. And my heart is filled with hope, and gratitude."

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