(This interview was first published on 11 November 2021 and is being reposted in light of yet another of Munawar Faruqui's shows being cancelled under pressure from a right-wing group - this time in Bengaluru. Faruqui's response, "Hate has won, the artist has lost, goodbye" indicates that he could be quitting standup comedy - with a dozen of his shows being called off in the past two months alone.)
Video Editor: Abhishek Sharma
With several of his shows cancelled due to threats of violence, vandalism and even murder, Munawar Faruqui is a comedian who seems to be in the perennial line of fire of right-wing trolls and Hindutva outfits.
In this freewheeling chat with The Quint, Munawar opens up about the toll this is taking on his work, his physical safety and his mental health. Is he seriously considering quitting standup comedy? Does he feel he's being targeted more because of his Muslim identity? Catch all that, and much more, in this interview.
Also joining us is Balraj Ghai, owner of The Habitat, a popular venue for standup comedy in Mumbai. Balraj and his venue have been receiving multiple threats too, for hosting Munawar's shows.
On Social Media’s Hate Factories, and Why Hate Is Louder Than Good Sense
Click on the player below to listen to the podcast version of the interview.
You’ve had a torrid experience in jail, you’ve come out, you’ve had great success and sold out shows across the country, but somehow this whole thing keeps rearing its head up, right? Threats by extremists, shows having to get cancelled…
Munawar: I don’t understand what they achieve by getting a show cancelled, what are they celebrating? What have you done to society by doing this? Your intentions behind doing this are very scary.
Tomorrow, if Virat Kohli scores a century, and our PM congratulates him on Twitter - then? You trolled Shami, then you trolled Kohli for supporting Shami, and now if PM supports Kohli by tweeting - what next?
Virat Kohli made a statement very akin to something you’ve been saying - spread love not hate, and don’t pull people down because of their religion. For making that comment, his daughter is being sent rape threats. As someone who is in a position like Virat, at the receiving end of all that trolling, how do you see this whole toxic culture of online trolling?
Munawar: It boils our blood to hear that someone is getting rape threats. But look how common it has become in the past 2-3 years. It has become a part of our lives now - trolling, abuse on the internet. We have ignored it and made it a part of our lives. Sensible people understand that what is happening is wrong, but they don’t want to get involved in it. As a result, the amount of hate keeps increasing.
Right-thinking people aren’t engaging with it, even though they feel, “This is wrong, they shouldn’t be abusing him.” But they won’t say that on the internet, because then they will get trolled too.
Targeted (More) For His Muslim Identity
Do you feel you are targeted much more easily, because of your Muslim identity?
Munawar: I don’t want to believe this. When I believe it, I feel hurt. Even if I know it, maybe I shut my eyes on this matter and say ‘Please don’t call me a Muslim comedian, call me a comedian!’ This ‘sarkari poison’ that is getting into people really bothers me. I want people to be living together in harmony. I have spoken about this a lot of times through my work, songs and videos.
So, I don’t want to believe that this is why I am being targeted. I try to reason that 80 percent of my fans and followers are from that (majority) community, so there is so much love too. Yes, maybe there are 10 people who hate me, but what if five of them come over and say that they were mistaken about me?
Munawar's Dream About PM Modi
"In my dream, I saw that Modi ji tweeted, “No one will do Hindu-Muslim henceforth in my country. Everyone will live in harmony. Jai Hind!” Now, just imagine, if this dream turns into reality - what a good thing it would be, what impact it could have!"Munawar Faruqui
'Which Toxic Industry Ruined the Internet?' Asks Munawar
Munawar: Do you remember anyone abusing you on Facebook 10 years ago? No! Because people would like ‘good morning’ posts then. If you’d gone for a vacation somewhere, they’d comment and ask what it’s like there. Now, it’s not the same on social media.
Because some people arrived on social media to do their business here. Think about it - in the last 10 years, who are the people who have opened shop on social media? Who made the internet their way of reaching people, resulting in it becoming a partisan space?
Which toxic industry descended on the internet whose fans were just…And I’m not talking about one side here, hate spreads from both sides on the internet.
"We have to ‘unsubscribe’ from these people because they are spreading hate."Munawar Faruqui
If there is someone watching this video who has trolled you recently, or someone who planned to come to your show in Mumbai and probably beat you up, is there a message you would want to send to that person?
Munawar: Come to the show, bro. Watch the whole show. If even after that you want to hit me, I’ll tell you myself to come and do so.
But I have hands too. But I don’t want to do that, and that’s what I’ve been trying to say - that we have to use our hands, but use them to write.
If you hate me, I would request you to please stalk me and see all my videos, and then decide whether to hate me or love me. At the end of it, you may not like me, but I won’t have given you a reason to hate me either. Hate is a strong emotion. You might end up saying that I’m not funny, but you won’t hate me.Munawar Faruqui
When The Show Must
Go On Be Cancelled
"When people threaten a venue owner by going out of their way - and the venue owner gets scared and cancels the show, then what can anyone do?"Munawar Faruqui
Balraj, how scary and intimidating does it get? Do you ever think that maybe it’s not worth it, maybe it’s not worth having Munawar Faruqui on the lineup, if that means at least I can continue doing my stuff, without him?
Balraj Ghai: I’ll tell you what’s scary. It’s scary only because you care about the people who are working at the organisation. If the place is broken down, it can be built back up again. The point is that there is a threat to life. I can take responsibility for myself. I can put myself in the line of fire, but I will not live with this on my conscience that there is someone else, because of me, who has faced this particular threat and gone through with it.
Does Munawar Consider Quitting Comedy to Avoid the Harassment?
In the video you put up on Instagram, one could feel the pain with which you were speaking. Do you ever seriously consider that possibly, it’s not worth all this hate, pressure, death threats, and it’d rather be better to leave a life bereft of performing standup comedy?
Munawar: If I leave standup comedy and start doing journalism, then these people will be even more annoyed. (Laughs) Yes, I said all of those things in that video. I wasn’t lying, it was a weak moment.
"They say that if you want to break someone’s spirit, you come and try to break his home. Today it is Munawar, tomorrow it could be anyone."Balraj Ghai
'Comedy in Tragedy': On Seeing the Lighter Side of Things
"There is a joke that whoever wishes to go viral wants to make a video on the Habitat stage, and that these people (who are threatening us) have also come here to do the same!"Balraj Ghai, comedy venue owner
Balraj: Like they say, “There is comedy in tragedy.” We can have a laugh about all of this, but those attacking us only lose their minds even more.
Munawar: There is nothing (objectionable) in the show. But that’s the thing - people want to get the show cancelled without even having seen it.
Balraj: At 2-3 points during the show, Munawar asks, “Have you felt offended at anything so far in this show?”
An artist’s most powerful tool is their pen. Whatever has happened in Munawar’s life has contributed to his content immensely. Whatever comes his way, he will take only one thing out of it - and that is content.
Munawar: At some point of time or the other, my show ‘Dongri to Nowhere’ will reach people. And then people will lament that this was suppressed for so long. People who watch the show will regret, “We could have seen this show so much earlier, had all of this not happened.”
The Like-Share-Subscribe Request, But With a Twist
"Unfriend, unfollow, unsubscribe people who speak hate on social media. Follow, (be)friend, subscribe to the people who give you content, who give you entertainment, and who spread laughter and love."Munawar Faruqui