Sunday, 20 March 2016

Comedy Central

Brian Mendonça

Recently I was asked to judge an event for a college festival in Goa.  It was called ‘Comedy Central.’ While I did manage a few weak laughs I was surprised that the dominant language for the acts was Hindi.  That was not funny.

Many of the characters swayed to recorded Hindi music (old and contemporary) and did a spoof on it depending on the situation they were enacting. Some of it was quite banal but had the audience hooting. Much of it was slapstick and very few relied on comedy in the dialogue.

A firm favourite was the possession episode from Chennai Express rendered by Deepika Padukone in the original. In this episode. Deepika as Meenamma  suddenly gets possessed in the middle of the night. The once docile Deepike transforms into a virago and mouthing curses in Tamil, boots the terrified Khan off the bed.  You can watch it on YouTube video titled ‘Deepika ki kick.’ Perhaps this was an ode to women’s power and the seething force bottled within, yet which cannot be expressed in a normal everyday way.

I was struck that this theme from a film directed by Rohit Shetty 3 years ago still stuck a chord among the teens today. One group used the stage very well with the kick in question sending the other actor off the stage and onto the floor near the audience. It was very dramatic.

But I was wondering where was Konkani? Where was Konkani with its rich tradition of comedy? Where were the stunts and the slapstick of an Ambe? Where were the outrageous costumes, the drag queens and the dim-wits which would have sent the house roaring in laughter? Did the Goan youth not identify with Konkani? And this was happening in south Goa. It seemed as though we were not in Goa but in Chennai. Were they embarrassed to use Konkani?

Another Hindi act had a young girl being wooed by her boyfriend which is objected to by her South Indian father in a banyan and lungi. When the father objects, it results in a scuffle where the boyfriend gets a hit on his head and starts wooing the father instead. The mannerisms and speech was caricatured and so was the tugging on the lungi. If we laugh at cultural diversity when will we respect it?

Comedy Central (CC) is a US comedy show which began in the 1990s. Its desi avatar began in 2012 and is still finding its feet. With several editions of CC across the world it is obvious that humour and what evokes it, changes from place to place and person to person.

Often specific communities are targeted as the butt of ridicule.  The Supreme Court of India is examining if sardar jokes should be banned online.  Emails which are highly provocative are passed off as humorous or comic and mindlessly sent to millions of people strengthening negative stereotypes like the dumb blonde or the Goan pau (idiot).

I wish we could all get more creative and critical with humour.
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 20 March 2016; pix courtesy

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