mid-day lunchbox: Biswa Kalyan Rath and Anuvab Pal meet over coastal fare to discuss going digital

Updated: Oct 24, 2017, 10:04 IST | Krutika Behrawala | Mumbai

Stand-up comics Anuvab Pal and Biswa Kalyan Rath meet over a coastal thali to talk shift from stage to digital, and a mutual hate for flights

"Sir, try this. It's superb," Biswa Kalyan Rath tells Anuvab Pal, pointing at the piping hot Tomato Rasam at Curry Tales in Khar West. While the rasam gets his stamp of approval, Biswa's calm demeanour, a day before the premiere of his web series, Laakhon Mein Ek (released last week on Amazon Prime), baffles Anuvab. "I couldn't sleep the night before [my web series] Going Viral released." The 27-year-old laughs, "I'm so stressed, I'll sleep well."

Stand-up comics Biswa Kalyan Rath and Anuvab Pal at Curry Tales, Khar West. Pics/Shadab Khan
Stand-up comics Biswa Kalyan Rath and Anuvab Pal at Curry Tales, Khar West. Pics/Shadab Khan

Over the next hour, the duo, who share warm camaraderie and mutual respect, bond over delicious fare from India's west coast curated by chef Sandeep Sreedharan.

Krutika: So, how was the shift from live stand-up comedy to creating a web series?
Anuvab: Going Viral was born as a way to wrap my head around the world of social media, which is alien to me.
Biswa: My show, set in an IIT coaching centre, is also a personal exploration, though not an autobiography [as an IIT-Kharagpur alumnus]. But I realised filmmaking is tough, involving a lot of people and dedication.
Anuvab: But you did stand-up shows during that time, right?
Biswa: Yes. We'd shoot in the daytime and I'd do stand-up at night. What else is there to do?
Anuvab: I love your words of wisdom. I remember complaining to you about our hard lives and you said, 'It's a simple life where you work only in the evenings. Some people have to do an actual job.' When I started out, I would repeat my material a lot. This generation of comedians is definitely better; they constantly evolve their material. I can't compete with them. That's why, I am doing shows outside the country, where everyone from around the world performs.
Biswa: Stand-up comedy is getting competitive. It's not restricted to the metros any more. With access to the Internet, the audience watches top-quality stuff. The younger comics are also great. So, we have to work hard.
Anuvab: Stand-up comedy has also become a great leveller. If the audience stops watching you, it's not because of other comedians but because your material isn't good. But yes, such crazy fandom didn't exist earlier.
Biswa: I'd say it did but not for English comedians. Johnny Lever and Raju Srivastav did enjoy it. I was a fan of the first season of The Great Indian Laughter Challenge.

[Prawn Dry Fry, Malabar Fish Curry-Appam and two Chicken Thalis, including Chicken Sukha, Crispy Bhindi Pachadi and Paalpayasam, arrive]
Anuvab: (trying Malabar Fish Curry with Appam) The curry is outstanding. I love Kerala's coastal stretch for its food. In Alleppey, I visited an eatery with only two items on the menu — whisky and calamari! I may also be the only Bong who likes fish that's cooked in a non-Bong way.
Biswa: Oh, I have a psychotic hatred for fish. My mother loves it. She'd make it every day. Bachpan mein bahot kaata atka hai gale mein. (Opts for Prawn Dry Fry) It's excellent. Coastal food has higher spice levels. Oriya food isn't this spicy; it's more carbs — rice and potatoes. People also confuse Oriya food with Andhra and Bengali fare.

Anuvab: Our country has superb food. I've tried some amazing non-vegetarian kebabs in the UP belt. I am obsessed with food and storytelling. For instance, a biryani story I've heard is that when Wajid Ali Shah was exiled, he was given two options: either take the family or the biryani cook. He chose the cook. Everyone in this country is very religious about biryani. I'd love to do a show on food next.
Biswa: Have you read The Story Of Our Food? It says onion and garlic were never part of Indian food.

Krutika: Is food used enough as material for gags?
Anuvab: I use it in my sets but I can't think of any work of fiction, except maybe Cheeni Kum and Chef, which does justice to how integral food is to our lives.
Biswa: It's hard to write about food because it's a different sensory experience. It's easier to talk about sounds and sights instead of taste. For instance, you can't read a review on a website and decide that it's good or bad.
Anuvab: Now, reactions about restaurants are also visceral — they either say it's the best restaurant I've eaten at or it's
the worst service ever.
Biswa: People vent online only when they have an overwhelming experience. It's the same with comedy reviews. The first reaction to my trailer was a "yawn". Having said that, the Internet is powerful, and sharing on social media is becoming the next word-of-mouth.
(Tucking into the thali) Everything is excellent. The best part of this thali is it's making me hungrier. Nothing puts me off as much as bad food. I don't feel like working, my system feels down. It's like average comedy. You laugh and then wonder why you're laughing.

Quick takes

An actor or politician with a sense of humour:
Biswa: Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan, the late Pramod Mahajan.
Anuvab: Javed Akhtar, Naseeruddin Shah, the late Kundan Shah.
Food routine you follow before getting on stage:­
Biswa: I don't eat anything.
Anuvab: A shot of triple espresso. It's ruined my health.
The worst part about being a stand-up comic:
Biswa: I hate flights. My main problem is that if I feel like shouting, I'll get arrested.
Anuvab: I hate flying too. 
I would often take long-distance trains for my shows. An Indian city where you find the most sporting audience:
Biswa: Mumbai
Anuvab: And also Bengaluru
Favourite street fare in Mumbai:
Biswa: None. It's horrible.
Anuvab: You don't like Bademiya?

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