OTT effect: Onscreen space warming up to cool stand-up comic portrayals

Gone are the days when every other actor was portraying a journalist onscreen. Think Kareena Kapoor Khan, Rani Mukerji, Sonakshi Sinha and the likes. Cut to 2020, a host of web shows/films are showing the life and struggles of being a stand-up comedian. For instance, web film Comedy Couple sees actors Saqib Saleem and Shweta Basu Prasad portray a loving comedy duo on the stage. Web series Bhaag Beanie Bhaag has Swara Bhasker portray the struggles of becoming a comic, the series Four More Shots Please has actor Maanvi Gagroo don the role of a stand-up comic, and web TV series Hasmukh has Vir Das portray a small-town comic. So, has it suddenly become cool to play a comedian on stage? Actors portraying a comic on screen say it’s enactment of onscreen portrayal vis-a-vis real life.

“Stand-up comedy is an up and coming profession which carries an innate cool vibe,” says Nachiket Samant, director of the film Comedy Couple, adding, “Movies sometimes serve the purpose of documenting the times we live in. As such, we are seeing a lot of movies and series set in and around the world of stand-up comedy. Stand-up comics are also standing up as a powerful voice, socially and politically, which adds to the whole coolness factor. While making Comedy Couple, I had the opportunity to interact with a few actual comics, and the challenges they face in their line of work are similar to any other. It was a lot of fun shooting the stand-up sequences, but the more we interacted with real comics, I felt there’s so much more we could have shown and told with respect to the world of stand-up comedy. It will be cool to watch something, movie, series, whatever, that goes beyond using stand-up comics just as a cool front, and showcase the real lives of comics like Gully Boy (2019) did for rappers, I suppose.”

Actor Maanvi Gagroo feels the reason why a number of stories around stand-up comedy are being seen is because essentially OTT is a relatively new medium; the need of which came about because “TV and movies were lacking the voice of Indian youth”. Sharing her views on comedy as a profession, Gagroo says, “Since stand-up comedy is, loosely put, a contemporary profession, where we’ve seen the advent of so many comics onto mainstream entertainment, this merging of the two seems natural. The narratives appear fresh, characters seem realistic and insights are nuanced. In the past, stories depicting movie making or actors have always seemed indulgent and inside jokes and conversations were missed by majority of the audience as they aren’t familiar with the workings of the film industry. Depicting a stand-up comic’s life seems to be that perfect amalgamation where creators get to bring in their insights and audience laps it up because of the strong resonance of the characters. Also, no one ever has a problem with good comedy. No matter the story, if the jokes are funny, the audience is laughing with you and that’s always a win!”

For Nupur Asthana, director of second season of Four More Shots Please, the advent of comedy clubs in the country and stand-up comics creating a huge fan followings for themselves is what became “quite intriguing to see what actually goes into a stand-up performance”. Asthana adds, “Maanvi’s character Siddhi ends up trying out stand-up comedy as a possible profession after a chance encounter with a comic she meets at the bar. Her comedy became about making her life stories a cathartic experience, and overcoming things or events or people that had made her feel lonely or rejected or angry. So she spoke about beauty, weight, expectations from parents, men and by joking about them and herself, she found confidence and self assurance.”

Off screen, popular comic Amit Tandon says showing the idea of a protagonist as a stand-up comic is a great way to “show a rebel, [in] a hero or heroine” but he hasn’t liked the quality of stand-up as such. He opines, “Live stand-up comedy has suddenly started getting recognition and people are eager to know what they have to say, and look at it as a profession. When you’re a showing your protagonist as a stand-up comedian, you also give him or her a voice, to vent out their frustrations, which is fairly interesting according to me. Maybe that’s one reason they [makers] use it as a trope! Stand-up comedy as a profession is looked at being associated with freedom; when you want to express and be free, that’s when you become a stand-up comedian. Althought, I haven’t really liked the comedy they have done in most of the shows. It’s not at par with what stand-up comedians would do.”

Author tweets @Nainaarora8

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