New Delhi: Jokes and jibes about politics have become a mainstay in American showbiz. But in India, it is the comedians who enjoy more leeway than other artistes when it comes to making a political commentary, says actor-comedian Vir Das.
Bollywood stars have become more prudent than ever about commenting on socio-political issues.
Does Vir find himself restricted in any way to joke about these subjects in India, given how much freedom of expression his counterparts enjoy in the US?
“I don’t necessarily do political jokes because there is a certain need to pass political commentary. It depends on whether the topic is personal at some level. And you can see that trend in my show ‘Abroad Understanding’,” Vir, who lends an American style to topics rooted in contemporary Indian culture, told IANS in an email interview.
“Of course, comedians in the US enjoy certain higher levels of freedom of expression, but I think that isn’t limited to stand-up alone. It’s part of a larger societal problem that is constantly in conflict. Whether it is films, journalists, writers. So, I compare myself to other artists in India rather than comedians abroad. And I think compared to other artists, comedians have been given a little more leeway,” he added.
In “Abroad Understanding”, his Netflix special, Vir tackles the subjects of racism, social injustice, homophobia, religion, et al.
Vir will perform the finale of his widely staged show ‘Boarding Das Tour’ in the capital on Sunday. The tour has covered six continents, 26 countries around the world and 26 cities in India, spreading laughter all the way.
In what ways has the show given him more visibility and popularity?
“The Boarding Das Tour was never about visibility or popularity. It’s about taking comedy to the smaller cities. On every video, or post I put up on social media, there’s always a comment or two saying, ‘Come to Ludhiana’ or ‘Come to Nagpur’.
“And, at some point last year, I kind of just noted down the cities that I saw in the comments and decided to add them to the tour list. If people are receptive to my comedy, that’s an added bonus,” said Vir, who has also featured in Bollywood films “Go Goa Gone”, “Badmaash Company”, “Delhi Belly” and “Revolver Rani”.
He has a production banner Weirdass Comedy, which apart from producing live shows, ventured into content through developing scripts, concepts for award shows, brand and advertisements. Now he is broadening its horizons.
There’s “Hasmukh”, a thriller movie in which Vir will play a serial killer, and the second project is “Happy Patel”, a non-fiction web series.
“The idea is to build me into an all-rounder content creator with focus on my acting, production, stand-up and writing,” he said, adding that venturing into production seems like a “natural progression”.
“Honestly, there is a lot to still figure out. It primarily comes from the drive to do what I want, how I want. And that’s the drive for any artist, right,” said Vir, who has been honoured with a doctorate for his achievements in performing arts by Knox College, Galesburg, Illinois, where he studied.
Clearly, there’s a lot happening on the career front. The best time of his life, is it?
“Regardless of things are going on around me, I’ve always got to keep my head down and march on. Maybe ask me the same question in 40 years. I can confidently tell you which part was the best time of my life… You know, hindsight is 20//20,” he quipped.
As an actor, what is he looking to explore?
“As an actor, anything that lets me or my character has an impact — be it comedic timing, acting capabilities, or a script that I took part in writing. So, I think I’m going to be a little more careful from now on.
“Be a little more selective with what I choose. I’m not really focusing on a genre but anything that uses heart, and comedy as a medium of narrative excites me.”