‘If Not Modi, Then Who?’ Comedians of Aisi Taisi Democracy Answer
Video editor: Prashant Chauhan
“Chunaav ka mahina, hai mach gaya shor
Phir aaya hai time to choose – who will screw us more? ”
As musician Rahul Ram croons Aisi Taisi Democracy’s ‘Chunaav ka Mahina,’ the audience breaks into laughter and applause at the song’s many punchlines. It features in the comedy collective’s new ‘Aazaadi Tour,’ a political comedy show currently running to packed houses across the country.
Right before their performance in Hyderabad, we caught up with the team to have some Chunaav ki Charcha with the makers of ‘Chunaav ka Mahina.’
The following are excerpts from our chat with comedians Varun Grover and Sanjay Rajoura, and musician Rahul Ram – as they discuss the environment of fear under the Modi government, the ridiculous forwards of WhatsApp University, and how trolling people you disagree with has become mainstream. With a joke thrown in here and there, of course!
‘This Govt Has Created an Environment of Fear’
Have the Modi years seen a clampdown on criticism?
Varun Grover: Those accused or convicted of lynching are being draped in the tricolour, or garlanded (by a BJP minister) – this celebration and shielding of intolerant elements has happened for the first time. No comedian has been shot dead, yet. You will say, “But you are still doing comedy. What are you complaining about then?” The point is that – you’ve created an environment of fear.
Even though we don’t think we are being brave for just doing political comedy, people come and tell us, “You’re so brave.” That definitely means that they also feel that it is brave in these times. It was never “brave” during UPA 1 or 2. I was still writing political satire and comedy, but nobody called us “brave” at that time.
Rahul Ram: The social media hate has gone up tremendously in the last five years. There is a dedicated band of people who are out to troll and issue rape threats, death threats, and threats of violence. This did not exist earlier, not as an organised paid-for army.
Sanjay Rajoura: There is a legitimacy that such things have got – now it is okay to say, “Send him to Pakistan,” “I will come to your home and beat you” or “I will come and rape you.” Even Prime Minister Modi follows people who celebrated the murder of Gauri Lankesh. In one way, it is apt – because the reality of our nature is coming to the fore, the sentiments that were hidden and repressed are coming to the fore. In that sense, this is truly a representative government.
If Not Modi, Then Who?
How do you respond when people ask, “If not Modi, then who?”
Sanjay Rajoura: This isn’t even a sensible question. It’s not like I have to get the plumbing done at home, and I’m asking, “If not this plumber, then whom do I call?”
Varun Grover: 543 MPs are going to be elected. Someone among them will be selected as PM by the others, surely.
During the show, Rahul Ram jokes about the many potential PM candidates in the Opposition camp. He sings:
Mamata ji, Maya, Pawar – sabka hai sapna
PM ki kursi pe, naam ho apna
Sonia, Mulayam ka bhi toh hai sapna
PM ki kursi pe, munna ho apna!
‘Now, Comedy Is in Competition With Reality’
As Varun Grover says in one of his standup sets, “We take two weeks to write a joke, and then find out that that actually happened yesterday!” What’s that one piece of recent news that you felt is more apt as comedy?
Sanjay Rajoura: The latest news which is literally comedy is Mahesh Sharma’s statement – “God has given you birth, he will give you employment, housing, food, what will your MP do in this?” Then, he should leave – why is he staying in the middle of all of this?
What are your thoughts on the Indian university with the highest number of students, WhatsApp University?
Sanjay Rajoura: What you’re calling WhatsApp University – that is the exact constituency that governments like this want. Those who aren’t rational, and can be fed completely fabricated lies.
Varun Grover: Pictures of Ursula Andress, a former Bond girl were circulated as pictures of a young Sonia Gandhi. What level of discourse is this?
Sanjay Rajoura: You can’t make a rational argument about this, can you? This is irrational, there is no rationality in this realm.
Varun Grover: The great thing about news right now is that it’s funny and depressing in the form of a sine wave.
The Sacred Games Challenge
How could we not throw in a question combining Sacred Games and politics when we had one of the show’s writers Varun Grover with us? Here’s how it went:
How would Narendra Modi complete the immensely popular Sacred Games quote: Kabhi kabhi lagta hai ki apun hi _____ hai.
Varun Grover: (For Modi) Kabhi kabhi lagta hai apun hi Ram ji ka avatar hai! And who is here to bring a Ram Rajya where Kanhaiya gets beaten first!
How would Rahul Gandhi complete the same Sacred Games quote?
Varun Grover: (For Rahul) Kabhi kabhi lagta hai apun iss baar toh launch hone wala hai!
Self-Censorship by Streaming Platforms?
The Quint: There are so many Indian comedy specials on the big streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. Yet somehow, certain comedians who consistently make anti-establishment jokes and speak up strongly against the government through their performances, have not received a special of their own. For example, Kunal Kamra, Varun Grover and even the collective Aisi Taisi Democracy itself. Is this due to self-censorship by the streaming platforms?
Rahul Ram: If I am Netflix, why would I want to run into trouble? Why would you want to air content that is politically not kosher with with the government? Because they can put you into a lot of trouble. Is it worth your while to take that risk? So, I don’t blame them. If the situation is like this, why would sensible businesspersons take such a risk?