How India laughs

Jan 31, 2015, 08:12 IST | Soma Das

YouTube channel Being Indian is ready with I Am Offended, a first-of-its-kind documentary on Indian stand-up comedy, scheduled to premiere on February 5. Directed by Jaideep Verma, it looks at Indian stand-up comedy in the overall context of humour and the culture of offense

At a time when stand-up comedy has gained countless fans across the country, a new documentary, titled I Am Offended, by director Jaideep Verma offers a 360-degree view on Indian stand-up comedy within the larger context of Indian humour in an environment of intolerance.

I Am Offended features comedians such as (above) Kunal Vijaykar and Cyrus Broacha; and (right) Johnny Lever
I Am Offended features comedians such as (above) Kunal Vijaykar and Cyrus Broacha; and (below) Johnny Lever

Created for the YouTube channel Being Indian, the 102-minute documentary, touted as the first on this topic, features a bevy of stand-up comics, including Johnny Lever, Vir Das, Aditi Mittal, Sorabh Pant and Tanmay Bhat, among others, and includes old footage of the legendary literary humorist PL Deshpande.

Johnny Lever

Verma has previously made documentaries like Baawra Mann (2013) based on director Sudhir Mishra’s life and Leaving Home (2010) based on music band Indian Ocean. He also directed the Bollywood film Hulla (2008). He published a novel called Local and created an analytics system in cricket called Impact Index (now part of Wisden India) that is his current full time preoccupation.

Aditi Mittal comments on gender and being a female stand-up comic
Aditi Mittal comments on gender and being a female stand-up comic

Quiz him on the inspiration behind the film and he replies that humour has always been important to him. “So far, all my work has striven for that, wherever possible. Also, I have two good friends in stand-up comedy — Andy Zaltzman in London and Varun Grover in Mumbai — and I was curious to know how they did what they did. While shooting a show for Andy in Mumbai in December 2012, I discovered Khamba, Tanmay and Aditi and liked their work, so I decided to explore the scene more. I hadn’t seen any stand-up show in India prior to that,” he states.

The documentary looks at the Indian stand-up scene
The documentary looks at the Indian stand-up scene

Apart from probing the thriving stand-up scene in English in India, the film also talks about the Hindi stand-up scene, cartoons, humour on television, Internet and cinema. Verma, and two editors — Harshad Nalawade and Dhruv Sehgal, made the film. “It was made sporadically as a hobby film over a year but the total days on it, including editing, would probably add up to three months. Canvas Laugh Factory helped us with a lot of live footage of comics, which helped enormously,” he informs.

Sameer Pitalwalla, the co-founder of Culture Machine (the company that runs the channel) admits that he is elated with this film, which offers a glimpse into the passions, trials and tribulations of an industry. “Jaideep is a powerhouse storyteller. His previous work, Leaving Home, made history with being the first documentary in Indian history to release nationally in theatres. We are making history with I Am Offended, a documentary on a scene which has, oddly enough, come of age through digital video,” he reckons.

Pitalwalla emphasises that the channel aims to highlight not only the humorous quirks of society but also use its reach to initiate dialogues on social issues that plague India. “Humour is a human way of dealing with things. Being Indian holds a mirror up to our society, the various quirks and nuances associated with it,” he believes.

I Am Offended is part of Being Indian | Originals, a new platform on the year-old channel, for young artists/directors to showcase their art.

Releases on February 5  
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