Tanmay Bhatt: Controversies leave you unemployable for a while
As Tanmay Bhatt turns mentor on Comicstaan, he discusses facing threats for inspiring laughs
Growing up as an obese kid, comedy was the defense mechanism that Tanmay Bhatt turned to, to make himself affable. Little did he know that it would eventually become a career, and he, a revered artiste. While he struggled to find his voice in the beginning, Bhatt reveals that the challenges he faced then are in stark contrast with the ones youngsters face today. "Ours were better," he says. From turning performer, to a mentor now on Amazon Prime's new show, Comicstaan, he says he hopes to encourage discussion on relevant issues, including mental health.
Edited excerpts from the interview:
Is comedy, as a profession, is viable? Do you think the struggles you faced initially are different from the ones newcomers face today?
The difficulties that comics face are uniform. There's the outrage, self-censorship and psychological damage they face. Supporters of politicians [one pokes fun at] can make life hard. And, in India, unfortunately, free speech, as a concept, is new. Punishment is not [meted out as promised by] the law. In fact, the process of dealing with the law is the punishment. This is the situation of comedy in India. Earlier, it was lack of venues and infrastructure for comedy to thrive that were the concerns. But, if you ask if comedy can be a viable career, I think, it can.
How difficult is it to push the envelope?
That depends on the kind of comedy [one performs]. It's tough to push political comedy because of the backlash. Anyone can file an FIR from anywhere, and that can affect business, even put careers on hold. Political comedy is difficult. In that sense, we are the VJs of the new generation, bringing about a social change among youngsters.
Over the years, a lot of your statements were misconstrued, even becoming topics of controversy. Did you do that on purpose?
Every controversy ruins someone's life - my parents' and my well-being come under question, business shuts down, and you become unemployable for a while. You don't know if you'll have a career after that. No one volunteers to create controversy. It is never created by a person who is making art, it is always created by [media on] a slow news day, or due to some other agenda of the state or media.
Why is there a sudden need to highlight mental health, especially with the kids on Comicstaan?
What the [older generation] hasn't realised is that with hyper-connectivity - social media and the Internet - you are constantly interacting with so many people. That has led to increased anxiety, and affected mental health. Every time I talk about it, a flurry of kids go, 'Yes, even I feel like this.' This is especially common in students, because, we underestimate how much pressure the Indian education system puts on them. Our system is almost oppressive. Mental health is the most underrepresented topic of conversation. While playing mentor to kids on Comicstaan, we discussed anxiety, among other concerns.
While we are on the subject of health, can you tell us why you decided to take to a healthier lifestyle?
Because, life is nice, and it should be enjoyed. I am 30 years old, and I have lived unhealthily. It's no longer cool to smoke or drink alcohol unabashedly. In December 2014, I weighed 240 kgs. I had acute sleep apnoea. My doctor warned me that my life expectancy would be low if I continued [to live this way]. Now, I work out at least three to four times a week.
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