Mid-Week M.E.L.A: Vir Das’ Abroad Understanding has been edited by Rushi Bhimani.
Stand-Up Comedy is the world’s new drug. We will consume everything emanating from it. To someone who began as a passive viewer of YouTube after school, Vir Das’ ‘Resentuary – The Angry Show,’ was my introduction to this drug.
Vir Das is one of India’s leading comedians. He has headlined numerous shows and TV specials, including one on Star World, and a venture in Bollywood. After attaining such reverence from a nation obsessed with taboos, it comes as no surprise that Das, eventually, headlines the first Indian stand-up special for Netflix. A Netflix special, in the age of Amy Schumer, Chris Rock, Louis C. K. and Dave Chappelle, entails significant recognition with rare honour. It was a typical night when I saw Das coming on a stage to speak to a seated audience. “India is a goldfish, ladies and gentlemen,” was a quip of his that has stayed with me. Instantly, I got ecstatic about Indians being light-hearted with words outside the domain of cinema that banked on slapstick.
The hour seamlessly cuts between a stadium in New Delhi and a comedy club in New York City. ‘Abroad Understanding’ shows how proficiently Vir Das translates his observations for spectators on either side of the globe. The location shift in the act is a prime indicator of his subtly clever comedic style. He knows how to command his act as a result of his slew of comedy and acting credits. Das is electric and lively in his presence. He does not shy away from addressing the elephant in the room, be it political turmoil in India or racial tension in the States.
In the consequential introduction to the special, Das unabashedly states that his deep Indian accent is not something to joke about; rather, it is his style of speaking. The joke is what he says, not how he gets to it.
His bits in the special are refreshingly different from the others on Netflix. While, the other shows excessively emphasise America and spiel about religion, gun violence, heartbreak, sex, and politics, Das talks about religion, gun violence, heartbreak, sex, and politics. He has a fresh take on a lot of the same that we have not paid attention to until now. The analogies and insights he employs have fascinated audiences. Moreover, this stand-up piece goes the extra mile by attempting to ruffle some feathers. Notably, he describes a breakup over Skype, which he later publicised on Facebook. This show strikes a balance between the Indian and American references, which to Das’ credit, he is capable of.
Furthermore, Das delves into critical topics. He underscores the choppy waters of identity politics, someone who has experienced and observed religious and ethnic discrimination personally. Like a typical male comedian anywhere, he has quite a few dick jokes. In a sea of American comics, Das needed to play off some immature commonality to blend in. Moreover, he addresses the plight of homosexuals in the nation, for whom, love is a crime. Modi and Kashmir, especially relevant, are frequently mentioned in this special. He subtly illustrates India’s autocratic turn in the past decade by bringing up the wings of politics and freedom.
His strong suit lies in storytelling, which he, at this point, adeptly applies on racism and parenthood. Das displays that he is in the swim with all headlines and trends that any comedian must be aware of to stay ahead of their audiences. Significantly, his honesty in exploring topics without the cover of “political correctness” gave a different aura to his special.
The stand-up performance marks a significant milestone for Indian comedy. This is not a general wobbly-head-silly-accent act; it is a societal commentary, which Das has wittingly wrapped in irony and sarcasm. Numerous things deal with a social fabric that we do not understand. This show is a medium to either choose not to understand it altogether and make fun of it, or have a good, hard think about it, and come up with a way to mend what is broken. Abroad Understanding, hopefully, will set the scene for various Indian stand-up shows targeting global audiences.
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